Concerns about competencies and a “digital solution” in adult education reform


I was part of a small group who worked together to develop a response to the recent call for input on the adult education consultation overseen by Ontario’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD). In the group were participants and organizers from The Festival of Literacies, “an initiative to bring adult literacy practice and research together to address challenges facing learners and practitioners.” You can read about their aims here and also check out some of their work and events.

The response is focused on MAESD’s efforts to initiate a “digital solution” and adopt a set of competencies, both of which appear to be the ministry’s preferred approach at this point to fulfilling their mandate to develop a “seamless and learner-centred” system.

Below is a section of the letter that introduces our concerns. After a careful reading of available materials, we recognize that MAESD has already put major plans in place to develop what is likely a virtual and abstract approach to program integration, an approach that may simply introduce more accountability work without any real change for adult learners in adult credit, ESL/FSL and LBS.

In this letter we have focused our response on the strategies MAESD has identified for:

  • improving system intake, guidance, and pathway planning; and
  • strengthening the recognition of core competencies for success in a 21st century economy and society.

This specific focus allows us to review an anticipated inter-connected accountability and
reporting system, which is likely to extend from the intake process (with adaptations) currently used by the Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) program to both ESL and adult credit. 

We recognize that the first objective is being addressed in partnership with Code for Canada, and a digital solution that provides information navigation is being developed. We also see that the planned solution will not only provide information about the system, but it may also be used to collect and share information about learners and their learning progress and outcomes for referrals, tracking, and accountability purposes.

We also recognize that the second objective, the integration of an existing set of core competencies, could be used to support intake assessment and supply data related to progress and outcomes. We understand that this objective implies that MAESD has some clear plans about the way it wants to design an accountability system, and this may include a novel way to articulate adult learner progress, outcomes and gains, requiring managers, educators and administrators with expertise in their systems to participate in “professional development opportunities” in order to “learn how best to use this new resource with adult learners.”

However, we are concerned that MAESD is rushing to develop a virtual accountability and reporting system, using an abstract and one-dimensional structure that will be overlaid onto the existing triad of adult education providers. “Government, service providers, and other key stakeholders will be partners in ensuring accountability for learner outcomes.” 

While we are not against the development and use of an accountability system, we strongly recommend that the (further) development of the system should reflect the current realities of the diverse and complex adult education systems in Ontario. There is a need for careful and collaborative review of existing accountability mechanisms, and a gradual approach to develop and introduce new ones.


The complete submission letter is here.



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