#2. How is Adult Literacy & Basic Education Delivered in Other Provinces…A Look at Alberta.


Last Month:

Last month we had a look at British Columbia’s system of Adult Basic Education delivery. We saw that B.C. has an impressive delivery system as it:

  • includes an annually updated provincial Guide to ABE that is widely distributed and used across the province by learners, institutions and referral agencies. This Guide was begun over 20 years ago and is still annually updated.
  • includes two routes to ABE completion. Students can be awarded one completion certificate as offered by B.C’s Ministry of Advanced Education (the “Dogwood Certificate”) based on a standardized postsecondary ABE curriculum; or, they can pursue the high school grade 12 diploma offered by the Ministry of Education. This means, B.C’s basic education students can choose a high school completion route through most B.C. postsecondary institutes (and all of the B.C. school board adult campuses), or they can go towards an ABE Dogwood certificate offered by Advanced Education.

Last month I wondered if Saskatchewan should have two completion routes as well? We’ll see later that Manitoba and Ontario also have both a high school and a postsecondary completion route choice for ABE students.

  • We also saw that B.C. has a huge province-wide ABE system of delivery through school boards. Adult basic education centres and campuses run by school boards enrol as many or more ABE students as all the colleges and polytechnics combined in B.C.

And, I should add that B.C. has one of the few Bachelor degrees in Adult Education in Canada. It is offered at the University of the Fraser Valley/Abbotsford. Secondly, while virtually every province has a Masters degree in Adult Education offered at one or more of their universities, the Adult Education Masters and Doctoral programs at UBC are the oldest in Canada. And, these programs have been ranked #1 among adult education graduate programs in North America many times year after year.

Turning to Alberta:

Looking now at ABE delivery in Alberta, we see a very different model—one with a clear, specific, purpose for adult basic education. That province’s policies have long seen adult basic education as a route towards further technical/trades training and/or entry to the workforce.  ABE is not generally understood to be a route to high school completion.

And it has long been this way in Alberta. I can remember when the province’s Ministry of Advanced Education began its new thrust in Further Education back in the mid-1970’s.  I had just begun as a “Voc-Prep’” instructor at what was then a cluster of trailers housed on the edge of Ft. McMurray. These “mobile homes” were the Fort McMurray Alberta Vocational Centre. From that humble beginning has grown one of Alberta’s largest and most impressive campuses–Keyano College. I clearly remember the new “Further Education” thrust in Alberta back then because, in late 1975,  I moved from teaching ABE to be the AVC’s first Director of Further Education. A whole new term and outreach concept. The next year, as I said, our AVC became today’s Keyano College.

And listen to this….

I remember one afternoon when the President of the College called an emergency meeting of the management to tell us the Ministry of Advanced Education in Edmonton (we called it the “head-shed”) had just called and asked if we could take “another million dollars?” Turned out the Ministry had “some money left over” at the end of the fiscal year. Apparently, other colleges like Olds College and Red Deer College had each taken a couple million, so, “Couldn’t we take ‘at least a million?’Remember, this was 1976. Imagine how much money that would be as in today’s dollars! After a brief discussion, it was agreed we just couldn’t take any more money. Not even a “mere million.” We would be lucky to spend the huge budget we had by the end of the fiscal year.

How often does that happen in a life time?

These were the heady days when Alberta launched its new Further Education thrust delivering adult learning programs through what has now become 80 widely dispersed Community Adult Learning Councils around Alberta. We are talking about a long, rich heritage of adult education in our neighbouring province.

 Why Adult Basic Education?

But here’s the first point….just as I was a “voc-prep” instructor in the early 1970’s, today ABE is still basically about job-entry and trades/technical training.  Secondly, it is fair to say each Alberta college and polytechnic tends to “do their own thing” with ABE.

Let’s take a look.

I interviewed a senior administrator in the ABE program at Calgary’s Bow Valley College—one of the largest programs in Alberta. He explained that Alberta’s Education Act is being reviewed; but, at present, there is:

  • no uniform provincial ABE curriculm,
  • no standardized graduation certification for ABE graduates,
  • ABE completion certification and curricula are provided by the individual provider institution—not the province.
  • no provincial training allowances (although there can be assistance through the Alberta Works program),
  • school boards are not widely involved in ABE.

Bottom line, ABE is delivered by providers in order, as my interviewee said, to help adults upgrade and meet “pre-technical needs.” Here, for instance, is what NAIT’s Website states: “Students who complete the Academic Upgrading program do not receive a certificate or diploma, and do not receive course credits toward an Alberta Learning High School diploma. However, the courses are accepted as entrance requirements at NAIT and at all other Alberta post-secondary institutions”( December 12 – http://www.sait.ca/programs-and-courses.php).”

However, while there are undoubtedly benefits to, “doing your own thing,” that may be changing. The Alberta Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education has, “plans to publish a Comprehensive Credentials Framework for Alberta’s post-secondary system in 2015 ….  A consultation process with key stakeholders is currently underway.”

The Role of Non-Profit & Community-Based Providers:

What was also very interesting in my interview was how Bow Valley College and other providers in Calgary work hard at partnering with non-profit and community-based providers to delivery literacy and ABE in Calgary. Many of the lower level ABE programs, for example, are located in  community-based centres in the communities where learners live and feel comfortable. Bow Valley College, as I was told, works with libraries, Aboriginal centres, civic facilities, the United Way and any number of organizations—providers and non-providers alike—to have their ABE programs located in free or low-rent facilities where learners live.


In last month’s blog, I wondered if Saskatchewan should have two routes for students.  If Saskatchewan should bring back the ABE 11 and 12 ABE curricula and completion certificate to supplement our current high school completion route? The focused purpose of ABE delivery in Alberta as a technical/trades training and job entry program seems to even strengthen the idea… Maybe there should be a training or high school ABE choice for learners? Meaning, an ABE 11/12 completon certification as well as our current high school certificate route?

What do you think?

Secondly, how interesting to see how the huge Bow Valley College seeks to outreach its ABE lower-level programs (especially) around Calgary by renting or partnering with other organizations (not always literacy providers) to not only maximize the city’s resources and facilities, but get literacy and ABE into the areas where learners live.

On this point, I wonder aloud:  “Who should be responsible for adult literacy and ABE delivery anyway?” The adult literacy literature has long argued that issues of adult lower literacy are society’s issues. They don’t all have to fall on the shoulders of one or more  ministries, or singular delivery systems or campuses… After all, adult literacy and basic education involve a complex of issues from food security, to health issues, to family-related issues, to the need for further training and job entry, to—yes—a social component in the lives of adult learners. Moreover, unlike school where kids are required by law to go to school, our adult learners are volunteer learners. The challenge we have is engaging and retaining adults with respnsive approaches that accommodate the lives and needs of a speical population of adult learners.  

In closing…It is sure interesting to see how each province addresses that same learner population.  I hope you agree.

Stay with the Journey: 

Be sure to tune in next month. I expect the next installment will focus on either Manitoba’s delivery system which, in my opinion, has a lot of lessons for us, or… well, tune in to see. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Make a difference.


Comments always welcome in the comments box appearing below.

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