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October 28, 2017 5:57 am

Adult Basic Education in BC – Why screw up a good thing? – Part 2

Thursday, February 5, 2015 @ 3:44 AM

By Peter Ewart

In Part 1 of this series, it was noted that substantial tuition fees (as high as $1600 per semester and $530 a course) will now be imposed on many Adult Basic Education (ABE) students throughout BC, who have taken the initiative to enrol in upgrading courses in school districts or post-secondary institutions.

So, in one swoop, many adult learners (most of whom are low income) who are currently taking upgrading courses such as Math 9 & 10, Physics 11, English 12, etc. will jump overnight from no tuition fees to shelling out a comparable amount per semester as a student at SFU or UBC in an M.A. program.  For individuals with low income, students juggling part-time jobs and studying, and single moms looking after kids, where will the money to pay these extra costs come from?

Peter Fassbender, the provincial Minister of Education, claims to soften the blow by arguing that the government is increasing the budget of the Adult Upgrading Grant system by 33% to $7.6 million and the income threshold for low-income applicants by 10%.  But as College of New Caledonia instructor Melinda Worfolk points out: “The income thresholds will still be very low even with the proposed increase, and the application process itself is a barrier for those struggling with literacy … in other words, those trying to access adult basic education.  The reality is that some students will simply not access further education because they are stymied by requirements or even by the application process itself.”  As a result, many ABE students throughout the province will be facing a substantial financial challenge in the years to come.

What reason does the government give for dramatically jacking up ABE tuition fees from zero to as much as $1600 per semester?  Minister Fassbender makes the claim that “High school is free, but further upgrading is not,” and adds, “I think it is reasonable to expect adults who’ve already graduated to contribute to these costs.”

But this argument needs to be challenged.  The K-12 education system, which is public and tuition-free, is a key element of the modern Canadian nation.  Adult Basic Education upgrading courses are an important adjunct to this system (whether delivered at public schools, post-secondary institutions or through distance ed).

Indeed, students who take ABE courses are still, in essence, topping off and completing their high school level education, whether it is filling in missing courses or taking refreshers so as to be able to enter post-secondary programs and advance their careers.  The question needs to be asked of the Minister:  Why is your government imposing fees on a crucial part of the public education system?

We live in times of a volatile and shifting labour market, where training and education priorities can quickly change.  Consequently, through no fault of their own, people may require new or upgraded skills to enter post-secondary programs or improve their job performance.  Why should they be punished for making the effort to adjust?

As noted earlier, adults taking ABE tend to come from low income and marginalized populations, including minimum wage earners, single moms, aboriginal people and immigrants.  Striving to overcome significant challenges, they have taken the initiative to better their education, advance their careers and contribute more added value to the society.

Vancouver Community College educator Dave Smulders points out, “when an adult learner signs up for a high school upgrading course like English or math or science, he or she does so out of necessity, not out of a passing interest or to burn up educational resources for amusement.”

Unfortunately, under the government’s new policy, the initiative of these adult learners is not being rewarded but instead penalized.  Indeed, the bigger challenges the adult learner faces in terms of knowledge gaps to overcome, the more he or she will be punished by having to pay additional ABE fees.  For example, an ABE student who starts out at an assessed level of Grade 9 “will have to pay twice as much as the student whose assessment revealed a Grade 11 level of writing skill.”  According to Smulders, “this is nothing less than a tax on the mind.”

“Finances can be a huge barrier for such learners,” Smulders further notes, “and for many the extra burden will make the choice disturbingly simple.  They will not continue.”  Thus, instead of adult learners being encouraged to take initiative, they are being discouraged by arbitrary government policy which fails to recognize that public education should be a right not a penalty.

Implicit in this governmental attitude is the neo-liberal idea that somehow public education is a burden on society.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Adults, through their labour, create huge added value for the economy and the society.  The more trained and educated they are, the more added value they can potentially contribute.

It is interesting that right at the time when ABE funding is being cut and fees jacked up in BC, the Saskatchewan government is going in the opposite direction and increasing funds for ABE.  In the United States, President Obama is going so far as to propose that the first two years of a college education be tuition free.

Opposition to the ABE cuts is growing across the province.  Selkirk College and the College of the Rockies in south-eastern BC are refusing to charge tuition fees for ABE courses.  Locally, newly-elected School District 57 trustees have called upon the provincial government to withdraw the ABE cuts, as has the Faculty Association of the College of New Caledonia.

CNC Faculty Association president David Rourke argues that “Rather than putting up barriers for these students, we need to remove them.  Given the government’s new Skills for Jobs blueprint, putting up more barriers for students trying to get into skills training makes no sense.”

For its part, the CNC Student Union is hosting a public forum from 5 to 7pm on Thursday, February 5th (at the Gathering Place on the Prince George campus) to discuss the issue.

In Part 3 of this series, instructors, teachers and students will give their views on the vital importance of Adult Basic Education in BC.

Peter Ewart is a writer and instructor based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca  






What could one expect from a government lead by a three time failed student like cc . To actively repress education for canadians this way is more than just stupid , it’s imoral and harmful to our society as a whole . Anyone reading this should know that Norway has offered the whole worlds population to come to their country and get an education for FREE . If you have high marks and no money you are welcome there . Unlike you are in your own country . Education is power . Cc and gang are actively trying to dumb down the population . Pure evil .nothing more nothing less .

Good article, comrade.

From the article: “The K-12 education system, which is public and tuition-free, is a key element of the modern Canadian nation.”

They are paid for though school taxes. Are you suggesting we use the same model for optional post-secondary education? Good luck selling that idea to the taxpayers.

Remember Peter, the money always has to come from somewhere.

Norway free, yeah.. Huge income tax, huge sales tax.. Nothing free in Norway.

How about being thankful that education is so inexpensive!

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