How is Adult Literacy & Basic Education Delivered in Other Provinces? #1. A Look at British Columbia

I have met people who insist that B.C. has been Canada’s leader in adult literacy and basic education for many years (…. actually I know a whole lot more who insist B.C. is the only place to live, especially in winter, but that needs a longer blog).

But, here are six reasons (at least) to think they might have a point about literacy and ABE.

1. CORE FUNDING: Way back in the mid-1970’s, when I was setting up the ABE and ESL programs at the—then—Regina Plains Community College,  worrying that we might not get funded the next year, and the next… and if I should even stay in this crazy field, I heard that B.C. had already put core grants in place so their ABE programs would have funding stability. That was my first (grim) introduction to how B.C. just might have been ahead of Saskatchewan.

2. ACTION RESEARCH LEADERS: Then, in about 1990, I was at a Professors of Adult Education conference in California and sat in on a panel of basic education practitioners talking about the growing literacy action research movement in the U.S.A. This was the first time I had heard about action research and its connection to literacy. I was really interested. Only to later learn that B.C. (and be discussed next month) had a province-wide action research movement well underway.

Actually, if you can take a minute, check out a great research project that a number of B.C. practitioners did some years ago. It is just as relevant today as then….entitled, Hardwired for Hope. I want to plug this study a bit. Several senior literacy/basic education instructors interviewed practitioners across B.C. to determine what qualities a truly effective literacy/BE instructor should have. Very interesting… If you can get your hands of the full report, it concludes with a list of qualities to look for when hiring new instructors. Worth a look?


3. TASK GROUPS AND CANADA’S MOST LITERATE PROVINCE: When I was interviewing people in B.C. for this blog, trying to get updated, I learned that during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics funding was granted to the field to develop some 102 Task Groups across the province to investigate literacy needs—from early childhood to adulthood. They sought to hear local ideas to determine best ways to more effectively meet the province’s literacy needs. The Task Groups consisted of employers, social service workers, educators and local leaders, among others.

And, at the time–and you may have heard about this–the government was promising that B.C. would become “Canada’s most literate province.” Not so sure if that was the final outcome, but B.C. surely has initiated some impressive thrusts that I think we could learn a lot from.

Here are a few examples we might think about:

4. A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO UPGRADING PROGRAMS: Over 20 years ago, the B.C. government began supporting their major ABE/literacy providers to help them develop a guide entitled: Adult Basic Education: A Guide to Upgrading in British Columbia’s Public Post-Secondary Institutions. Check it out?  I learned in one of my recent interviews that this guide is still updated with annual practitioner meetings. As was explained to me, on-line contact and annual meetings among lead instructors not only keep the Guide updated, but practitioners are able to share new materials and discuss best practices in their respective teaching areas and disciplines.

As far as I know, B.C. is the only province that has such a comprehensive guide. How sensible to have learners, practitioners, employers and educators at all levels having an updated, plain language, guide. Potential students and those that advise them can easily find out what literacy and ABE opportunities are available, where the programs are, what these adult education programs actually consist of….

Makes me wonder if this might one day be possible in our province? This may be worth thinking about?


In B.C. adults have a choice of graduating with either a grade 12 High School Diploma from the school system, or an Adult Graduate Diploma (AGD), also know as the Dogwood Diploma. This means B.C. offers two level 12 completion diplomas: the grade 12 diploma from the Ministry of Education and the more adult-oriented, Adult Graduation Diploma, from the Ministry of Advanced Education.  Although these two diplomas are not necessarily seen as equivalent among employers or universities, B.C. adult learners do have a choice.

This matters in several ways. For instance, I was told by one whom I interviewed that B.C. colleges and polytechnics often tailor their ABE 11-12 course selections with individual students so every students does not have to take all of the compulsory high school courses. The postsecondary training institutions therefore have the flexibility with the Adult Graduation Diploma to adapt individual student programs so students only need to study the ABE 11-12 prerequisites required for the trades programs they are entering.

Actually, Saskatchewan once had both an ABE 11 and a 12 curriculum. The Department of Continuing Education—later Advanced Education and Manpower—used to award provincial ABE completion diplomas at these  levels as well. I can attest to this since I remember how a group of ABE instructors from the, then, Saskatoon Region Community College, the Couteau Range Community College in Moose Jaw, and several of my ABE staff from Regina Plains Community College spent a long (hot) summer at the Uof S developing the first provincial 11-12 curricula. And, I remember how, when I was with Advanced Education and Manpower in Colleges Branch, we supported not only the GED but ABE 11-12 diplomas as well. Today, Saskatchewan adults have the high school grade 12 as their only option in ABE.

Makes me wonder if our ABE 11-12 curricula and ABE completion diploma should be re-instated?   Might be worth thinking about….?


B.C. and Ontario both have long histories of school boards offering ABE— especially grade 11-12 high school courses for high school completion. These ABE courses are free for full-time adult learners of any age over 18. And, in institutions such as the Vancouver Community College (with over 2,000 ABE students each year), the younger adult learners are effectively streamed separately from the more mature adult learners, a point discussed more further along in this blog.

The people I talked with in B.C. said their school boards enrol at least as many adults learners as their colleges and polytechnic systems combined. ABE courses are typically offered in school board adult education facilities at adult campuses or adult high schools.

To the best of my knowledge, only the Saskatoon School Board has two adult campuses:  their Royal West campus and the other at Nutana Collegiate. The Regina School Board has an Adult Campus in downtown Regina. However, in Saskatchewan, unlike B.C., Manitoba and Ontario, only those 21 years of age and younger qualify for full-time free high school courses.

Should there be more of these campuses for the 21 years of age and younger adult group?  There is a strong argument that younger adults typically do far better among their own cohort than when mixed in with older returning adults.  Vancouver Community College and school boards across Ontario typically stream the younger adults into different cohorts from the more mature adults, and I was told that Nutana and Royal West do the same thing… With annual waiting list for several of our ABE programs in Saskatchewan, and the huge role of school boards in other juriscictions, it makes me wonder…

And here’s an interesting B.C. trend that I heard about… Some colleges and polytechnics are teaching ABE courses simultaneously with trades courses.  Effectively, ABE is embedded in the trade classes and made as relevant as possible to the trade program’s vocabulary and curricula. ABE and trades aren’t seen as separate areas of study.  For instance, students may have their ABE courses in the morning and their trades classes in the afternoon—possibly in the same room or shop space but with different instructors. I guess having an ABE 11 & 12 curriculum and ABE completion diploma helps on this one.

And one more interesting idea. High schools are evidently beginning to encourage some of their 10, 11 and grade 12 students to go over to the local postsecondary institutions to attend some of the trades courses. And they receive high school credit for attending a trades course. This way younger students get an up-close and personal look at various trades training programs–nothing hypothetical.  Young students get hands-on experience for credit, and education is more seamless with clearer learner pathways.

Pretty interesting?

I do hope this blog instalment inspires some thought, maybe some discussion… and I hope you will stay tuned.

At the end of February we will take a look at what Alberta does with their literacy and ABE programs, then on to Manitoba and Ontario.

Until then,

Comments are always welcome on this website


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