On October 5th MAESD invited over 250 LBS program staff to a one-day symposium in Toronto to share and discuss key findings from the LBS evaluation report. The intent was to discuss findings with the field in order to “capture the range of perspectives that were shared.” Discussion sessions were organized around five themes, including a synthesis of the evaluation findings. The sessions were facilitated by a third-party (www.swerhun.com). An extensive report was released on November 24.
I heard positive reactions from a few people who attended the event. Not only was it well organized and thorough, they said, but they felt that their concerns were heard. The report, also developed by the consultants, can be seen as an important record of the discussions and the overall concerns of the field. It also contains some very concrete suggestions about changes that need to be made.
Not surprisingly, the most pressing concern, based on the number of comments across categories, and repeated comments is funding. The report developed an eight-item listing of topics, what authors’ called a “high level synthesis.” Three of the eight topics—program operation, learner supports and professional support for educators—relate to funding. Concerns related to the OALCF and program participation barriers also received numerous and repeated comments. Topics receiving the fewest comments are marketing, enhanced collaboration and referral and communication.
Below is a reorganized listing of the original synthesis list (using verbatim phrases) to better align with the documented comments:
Provide sufficient, equitable and stable funding that is allocated with transparency.
Allocate more funds for the resource and support needs of learners.
Provide resources, support and professional development training.
Create a curriculum that is more responsive to the goals, progress, and lives of learners.
Address participation barriers.
Provide continuous communication and regular engagement opportunities.
Develop a marketing strategy.
Enhance collaboration between other provincial service programs and LBS.
I took a close look at the report and created a five page summary. This record of concerns needs to be carried forward as MAESD develops and implements an extensive reform of adult education provision in Ontario. LBS, along with programs in two other ministries—ESL/FSL and adult credit—will be coordinated by MAESD. While LBS is engaged in its own consultation process with MAESD this year, additional consultations, planning and development will be unfolding.
1. Provide sufficient, equitable and stable program funding that is allocated with transparency.
- An overall funding increase is needed to keep pace with inflation and higher staffing and facility costs.
- Francophone communities remain underserved due to funding limitations.
- Funding needs to be more flexible in order to respond to changing community needs.
- Valuable funding and resources are being used to support an administrative burden rather than learners and program development; reduce administrative demands.
- Provide program funding so that programs can provide a livable wage for staff; wages need to rise with the cost of living.
- Funding should acknowledge geographical challenges and stream differences.
- Develop a multi-year funding strategy.
- Distribute funding payments in lump sums rather than monthly to accommodate larger costs such as up-front lease payments
- Create a two part funding strategy that distinguishes operation costs and teaching/staffing costs.
- Conduct a detailed cost analysis to better understand the funding deficit that many programs have, and which is currently covered by fund-raising efforts.
- Do not tie funding to learner outcomes; all learners and all programs are different.
- Allow program to carry a surplus in order to respond to emergencies and community needs.
- Programs need about a 15% funding increase without increasing targets in order to cover current deficits, increased administrative demands, increased staffing costs, an emergency fund, and pilot programs to support innovative programming and try out and grow new ideas that could appeal to those not currently in programs.
- For 2018-2019, address existing funding issues before expanding the program. Also, release funding earlier to allow programs time to plan for increased enrollment. Ensure a provincially supported marketing strategy is in place to support program efforts to increase enrollment.
2. Allocate more funds for the resource and support needs of learners.
Allow programs to use current training support funds in flexible ways to better support those who have complex learning challenges, namely learning disabilities, mental health challenges, those who need access to digital technology and digital literacy development, and Deaf learners. This flexibility is necessary to help learners living in poverty alleviate fundamental participation and learning barriers such as food, affordable internet access, transportation and childcare.
Suggestions: New funding is also needed to develop resources, supports and expertise to help practitioners work with adults with learning disabilities, including access to educational assessments. There is also a need for additional funding to enhance training supports such as childcare, transportation and individual access to digital technology.
3. Provide resources, support and professional development training.
Currently there is no or little funding for PD related to teaching/learning strategies, supporting learners with complex needs, and program administration and use of EOIS-CaMS .
Suggestions: Develop a more “grassroots approach” to assessment and identifying learner needs that is led by practitioners. Develop Learning Specialist positions to support programs, and/or a mechanism for instructors to gain expertise and then share it with others.
- Continuously fund professional development and training opportunities for educators.
- Fund the development of Francophone and ASL materials.
- Reinstate the Service Delivery Network Development Fund.
- Fund on-going EOIS-CaMS training for new staff.
- Develop and continuously fund an online resource library and collection (similar to Copian or Tutela).
- Fund an annual or regular conference for LBS along with regular PD opportunities using other formats and methods.
Curriculum and Inclusive Participation
4. Create a curriculum that is more responsive to the goals, progress, and lives of learners.
The “OALCF creates barriers for people who cannot achieve progress and transition to their goals.” There is a need for a better articulation of progress or levels across the curriculum (lower and higher levels) that is more flexible, adaptable and responsive to individuals. The current system places “unrealistic expectations” on many learners. Recognize the limitations of a single assessment system that does not take into account a myriad of learning challenges and learners’ educational backgrounds.
Suggestions about the OALCF:
- Develop literacy standards that are more appropriate to learner contexts and communities.
- Remove time pressures to complete a Milestone.
- Update or change the Milestones and Culminating Tasks so they are more responsive to learners and their goals.
- Current Level 1 could be broken down to three levels.
Suggestions about other curricular activities:
- Develop mechanisms that support employment transitions for those who have employment goals; at the same time recognize that most do not have employment goals and some access programs for personal and family support (i.e. independence goals).
- Develop a digital literacy framework that aligns with the needs, interest and concerns of particular populations, such as seniors.
- Integrate more experiential learning opportunities, particularly for Indigenous adult learners.
- Develop blended learning content so that learners can access program materials online while enrolled.
- Integrate more family learning opportunities.
- Partner with libraries to facilitate access to technology.
- Provide WSIB coverage to LBS so they can develop experiential learning programs and help learners get work experience
5. Address participation barriers.
Update or remove inflexible MAESD suitability and eligibility criteria in order to be more inclusive and directly support:
- Youth between 16-19 with no other learning options.
- Seniors who continue to work and need to develop digital literacy.
- Newcomers with literacy challenges and low levels of education who have no other learning options, particularly in small communities.
- Those who aren’t ready to independently learn online and need support to access these opportunities.
- Recognize regional differences, such as transportation challenges and a lack of transportation and internet access, and create more flexibility in the way programs respond to local communities.
- Overall, the LBS program should be inclusive, serving those who have no other access to formal education and training opportunities due to their readiness and skill level, a learning disability or other disability including mental health challenges.
- Focus on “meeting the needs of the community and not the targets.”
- Recognize that community programs serve more vulnerable and challenging learners compared to school boards and colleges, yet are judged the same way in the PMF.
Suggestions: Remove current exclusionary barriers regarding Milestone completion that prevent programs from working with “people who have difficulty completing the Milestones.” Engage with the field to discuss performance management. Do not tie outcomes to funding.
Communication and Marketing
6. Provide continuous communication and regular engagement opportunities.
- More timely access to EOIS-CaMS program data
- Labour market information in local communities
- Ensuring that ETCs understand and interpret policies consistently
Suggestions: Develop ETC positions that are dedicated to LBS. Develop a ministry department/unit dedicated to ASL, similar to departments/units dedicated to Francophone and Indigenous education.
7. Develop a marketing strategy.
A marketing strategy could include the following elements:
- Community outreach strategies directed at services that learners and potential learners access, such as OW, ODSP.
- More understanding of who is not accessing LBS and why.
- Changing public perceptions and reducing stigmas associated with use of the term literacy.
- Emphasizing more than employment as reason to participate in a program.
- Communicating a vision of LBS that is focused on meeting community and individual needs, concerns, interest, that improves “the quality of life” through skills development, connection and greater engagement.
Suggestions: Develop a new name for the program (e.g., Adult Lifelong Learning (ALL), Essential Skills Development Program (EDSP), Adult Training and Learning Centre (Adult TLC), or Adult Lifelong Learning and Training (ALLT). Develop sector partnership grants to attract employer participation.
8. Enhance collaboration between other provincial service programs.
There is a need for more rigorous referral and communication between other MAESD programs, such as Youth Job Connect (YJC), between MCSS programs such as OW, and between MCI programs for newcomers to better support learners and improve referrals.
Suggestion: Develop a regional network resource and mechanisms to enhance collaboration and improve referrals.