#4. Manitoba’s Adult Literacy and Basic Education System


We have been looking at how other provinces delivery adult literacy and basic education in Western Canada.

  • In January we learned about B.C.’s impressively comprehensive system.
  • In February it was Alberta’s more entrepreneurial system.
  • Last month we learned more about our own province’s (little-known) distance delivery system and the work Parkland College is doing.
Dr. Lynette Plett
Dr. Lynette Plett, Executive Director/Registrar, Adult Learning and Literacy, Manitoba Multiculturalism and Literacy

Moving on, this month’s instalment is an interview with Dr. Lynette Plett, Executive Director/Registrar, Adult Learning and Literacy, Manitoba Multiculturalism and Literacy. Lynette tells us about the Manitoba delivery system. In my opinion, Manitoba has the most integrated delivery system in Western Canada. Very impressive! Check out how literacy and basic education programs are available from community agencies such as the John Howard Society and local libraries and how adults can attend programs at Adult Learning Programs and Adult Learning Centres across the province. AND, check out how adults can get take ABE credits in high schools or earn credit for trades courses and basic education simultaneously.  And, all funding is managed through Lynette’s office.  One Branch in one ministry with one highly integrated system serves some 10,000 adult learners annually.

Lynette ends the interview providing her e-mail and Website addresses if you would like to follow-up on Manitoba’s impressive delivery system.


Comments always welcome



AQ: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this, Lynette. I wonder if you can begin by giving us a quick overview of Manitoba’s adult literacy and basic education system?

LP: Thanks, Allan. I think the educational options and opportunities available to adults in Manitoba are impressive.

  • We have a network of adult literacy programs (ALPs) for non-credit upgrading and we also have registered adult learning centres (ALCs) for high school credit programming. Therefore, in our province, ALPs offer non-credit and the ALCs offer credit high school credit courses.
  • These two sets of programs may be offered in separate locations but they are sometimes in the same building. We refer to them all as Certified Adult Learning and Literacy Centres (CLLCs), but they are two distinct program areas offered through our ALPs and ALCs.
  • It is important to note that Manitoba has government legislation that supports both ALPs and ALCs: The Adult Literacy Act and The Adult Learning Centres Act. Under these acts, adults have the option of attending tuition-free programming at ALPs to upgrade their academic skills and/or attending tuition-free programming at ALCs to obtain credits and high school diplomas—including the option of completing an 8 credit mature high school diploma.
  • Adult students can also have their previous learning assessed and recognized for credit at ALCs, including up to two high school credits for their prior learning at the literacy level.
  • Also, adults have the opportunity to obtain dual credits at some ALCs and get a head start into their post-secondary studies; meaning, they can receive course credit at a post-secondary level and high school level simultaneously.
  • Those who already hold a high school diploma are eligible to enrol at an ALC for four additional courses, tuition-free, to obtain pre-requisite credits for employment or post secondary education.

The strength of Manitoba’s adult education delivery model is the potential for laddering from non-credit literacy programming, to high school credit programming, to post-secondary programming—tuition free at our network of Certified Adult Learning and Literacy Centres throughout the province.

AQ: Sounds very comprehensive. Here in Saskatchewan we have the Ministries of Advanced Education and the Ministry of the Economy involved with ABE delivery as well as the Ministry of Education which offers some ABE for adults under 22 through a few adult school board campuses. But I understand all literacy and ABE for all adult ages in Manitoba is managed and funded through a single ministry–all integrated through your office?

LP: Yes, in Manitoba, funding and registration for adult education is delivered through one Ministry—the Adult Learning and Literacy branch of Manitoba Multiculturalism and Literacy. Funding for and delivery of Essential Skills programming is provided through the Ministry of Jobs and the Economy.

Programming at both ALPs and ALCs is intended for adults of all ages. For example, our policy on under-age learners states: “The learner must display sufficient maturity to be able to function appropriately in an adult-focused learning environment.” The majority of the high school diplomas issued at ALCs are the Manitoba Mature Student High School Diploma (MMSHSD). To be eligible to obtain a MMSHSD, an adult must be 19 years of age or older.

Our policy is to cap under-aged learners at 10% to ensure an age-balanced adult environment in classrooms.

Learners at both ALPs and ALCs typically range in age from 19 to over 54 years of age. In 2012-13, only 2% of learners at ALPs were under 19 and, at ALCs, it was 4%. At ALPs with the senior level program, 17% of learners were aged 19-24 and at ALCs it was 47%. So, we certainly have a young learner demographic attending our programming. By the way, younger learners may be enrolled at ALCs, but they have to work towards a full 30 credit Manitoba High School Diploma.

The MMSHSD consists of 8 high school credits: 4 credits at the Grade 12 level (1 in English Language Arts and 1 in Mathematics). The other four credits may be obtained at the Grades 9 to 12 levels.

Adults up to the age of 22 may also enroll for high school credit courses in Manitoba’s school system. At these high schools, they could be working towards their MMSHSD, but alongside 16, 17, and 18 year-old classmates. However, if a program in a high school is geared to and grouped specifically for adults, it is supposed to be registered as an adult learning centre through our Branch.

AQ: So, it sounds like literacy/basic education programs are offered by a wide range of agencies, from community based organizations like the John Howard Society, to  colleges and universities, to band councils—even in Manitoba high schools?

LP: Yes. To be eligible for provincial funding for adult literacy programming (ALP), an agency has to be a not-for-profit organization, a registered adult learning centre (ALC), or a library. Currently, we provide funding for 33 such agencies for basic upgrading throughout the province.

Examples of not-for-profit organizations that are funded to provide adult literacy programming include Friendship Centres and the John Howard Society. Most not-for-profit organizations are small community-based organizations that were incorporated for the purpose of delivering adult literacy programming.

On the other hand, Adult Learning Centres (ALCs) are administered directly by a school division or a university/college. They can also be administered through not-for-profit organizations, First Nation band councils, or union training centres. However, to do so, such organizations must enter into a partnership with a school division or a university/college.  In this way, each of the partners is equally responsible for providing the educational program. These partnerships ensure oversight for quality delivery of the educational program and financial accountability.

In total, we register 42 adult learning centres throughout the province. Of these organizations, 12 also receive provincial funding to deliver adult literacy programming.

AQ: I also understand you don’t use the term ABE ‘levels’ for a reason… We in Sask. say ‘Level 1-2/level 3/ level 4’; but, in Manitoba, the term used across the system is ‘stages’? Could you describe the stages in Manitoba and why you say “stages” rather than levels?

LP: Right. We refer to the non-credit adult literacy levels as “Stages” not “levels.”

Stages  is a Framework and not a prescribed curriculum. The Manitoba Stages Framework  forms the basis for adult literacy instruction and assessment in the province.  The Framework describes principals or attributes expected in adult literacy programming as well as the stage level skills for reading, document use, writing, and oral communication. While learning outcomes are clearly identified for each Stage, the topics and resource materials are left open for the learner and the instructor to develop. The Manitoba Stages Framework allows for instruction to be customized to the goals of the adult literacy learner.

We have three Stages levels. The outcomes of these levels have been correlated with the provincial English Language Arts (EAL) curricular outcomes as appropriate for adult learners:

  • Stage 1 is approximately aligned with the English Language Arts (ELA) outcomes for Grades 1 to 4;
  • Stage 2 is approximately aligned with the ELA outcomes for Grades 5 to 7;
  • Stage 3 is approximately aligned with the ELA outcomes for Grades 8 & 9.

The three Stage levels were initially developed to align with the literacy & numeracy proficiency levels as defined by the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). The development of Stages also took into consideration the levels of the Essential Skills and the Canadian Language Benchmarks.

A literacy level learner who has completed all the outcomes of Stage 3, may have his or her portfolio assessed at an ALC for up to two Grade 9 level high school credits.

AQ: Can ABE learners take the more senior level high school curricula at some level(s) as well as have the option of an ABE senior level curricula through the Manitoba adult delivery system? Two options? How is that choice made locally for adult learners?

LP: Through the intake and assessment process at either an ALP or an ALC, and based on learners’ stated learning goals, an adult would be advised about their educational options and then be enrolled or referred to appropriate programming.

A learner might well be enrolled in a Grade 10 Mathematics course at an ALC and simultaneously enrolled at an ALP to work on upgrading his or her reading or writing skills. At organizations which offer both types of programming, learners can more seamlessly engage in learning at different programming levels.  We encourage all ALPs and ALCs to have strong working and referral relationships with the other level of programming.

AQ: Taking this point further, I understand Manitoba has a ‘dual credit system?’ Can you describe that? Are dual credits accepted both by employers and further education institutions, such as universities?

LP: There are a number of definitions and practices for “dual credit systems,” but the current practice at Manitoba’s ALCs involves a partnership between an ALC and a post secondary institution where a college, for example, delivers a course that provides the adult learner with both a high school credit as well as a college credit for the course. These dual credit courses are registered at the Ministry’s Adult Learning and Literacy branch.

Examples of dual credit courses that have been delivered at ALCs include: Construction Trade Technology, Educational Assistant Skills, and Urban and Inner City Studies. As a result, when an adult learner enrols at a post-secondary institution, he or she has already earned some of the trades as well as academic credits towards a program of study.

AQ: Is the GED offered in your province?

LP: GED Testing is administered in Manitoba. Preparation for GED Testing is offered on a cost recovery basis at various organizations or at ALPs if the level of preparation fits within the context of the Manitoba Stages Framework. GED is accepted as an academic credential by some employers and post secondary institutions and, for some adults, this is a faster way of achieving their employment goal or pre-requisites for PSE than obtaining a Manitoba high school diploma.

AQ: How many students do you typically have in basic education each year? And what is the annual retention rate for the province?

LP: There are just over 10,000 learners enrolled across our Certified Adult Learning and Literacy Centres annually. Although this fluctuates from year to year, in 2012/13, there were 2,254 learners enrolled at ALPs and 8,409 at ALCs, meaning more adult learners at the for-credit, high school levels.

For ALCs, we know that in 2012/13, a total of 11,752 courses were completed for credit. There were 1,329 learners who obtained a Manitoba high school diploma.

We have just implemented new processes for assessing learner progress at ALPs in 2014/15 and we will be analyzing trends based on new statistical information in the upcoming years.

AQ: In closing, any thoughts on where literacy and ABE could be headed into the future in your province?

LP: There are a number of potential directions for the future of adult education in Manitoba.

  • We could explore enhancing the distance delivery of programming at both ALPs and ALCs through online learning and blended learning models.
  • Another area for exploration would be to work more closely with employers and training providers for adult education programming that leads more directly to employment.
  • And another area for exploration could be to enhance programming success for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged adults who face multiple barriers, including academic skills and credentials.

AQ: Thank you very much for this overview, Lynette. If readers want further general information, what is the best Website to use? And who can they contact for more detailed questions? 

LP: Allan, thank you for the opportunity to talk about adult learning and literacy in Manitoba.

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