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Manitoba’s adult education system ‘not taken seriously’: researcher

File: An upward shot of School desks. Globe and Mail via The Canadian Press

A new 40-page report is painting a grim picture of Manitoba’s adult education system.

Jim Silver authored the in-depth study and he says a main issue is what he calls “abysmal underfunding.”

Silver, a professor emeritus at the University of Winnipeg and research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says adult literacy programs have long been looked at as “a poor country cousin” of the education system.

Silver says there should be a continuum of educational opportunities.

“K-12, post-secondary and adult education. But we don’t think of it in that way. We think of adult education as a ‘back of the bus’ type of thing. So I think that’s also part of the reason it’s been underfunded over time — it just hasn’t been taken seriously.”

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The provincial government says there are more than 192,000 Manitobans aged 16 to 65 whose literacy levels are too low for them to fully participate in society.

Silver says it’s not just Manitoba struggling with adult learning, adding that there isn’t a single province it can look to as a model.

“In every province it is not taken seriously so I don’t know that we can find a solution by looking elsewhere. We’re better off trying to build on what we have. We have some terrific ALCs (adult learning centres) individually on their own and we need to build on them.”

Breakdown of adult learning centres’ funding and enrolment since 2003. Manitoba Adult Learning and Literacy. Annual Reports, 2003/04-2019/20.

Silver says investments in adult education will drastically reduce poverty and lift families and communities to a better life.

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“Adults going and getting their mature Grade 12 are likely to be able to move out of poverty. And all the evidence shows when that happens, those people’s children are likely to do better in school as well. We have lots of Indigenous people in adult education and they want to improve their educational standing to build a better life.”

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Silver says adult learning should be part of the education minister’s portfolio and the teachers should be included in the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

“Over the years it’s been bumped from one department to another and another and another. Currently, it’s in Jon Reyes’s department (minister of economic development and jobs) and I’ve sent this report to him and the leaders of all three provincial parties.”

Silver says the NDP received the report with a warm welcome, he’s meeting with the Liberals this week and has not received a response from the Conservatives.

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