In 1987, when a few Native community members in Toronto first began their involvement with the literacy movement, the challenge before them was to bring about massive improvements in the quality of education for Native learners. They saw possibilities in developing links between Native literacy, healing, community development, and self-determination. This research project rises out of the need to further articulate those hopes and dreams into a collective, community-wide vision.
The numbers of First Nations people who move to Toronto in search of better education and employment opportunities are increasing, and there is documentation verifying that just over half of the Aboriginal population that migrates to the city struggles with poverty. The most recent report describing the situation was presented in October.° According to that report, escaping poverty by going back to school rates minimally if at all on a priorities list.2 In direct response to the economic challenges faced by clients, some Native social service agencies had begun to add literacy, upgrading, training, and job readiness programs to their list of programs and services.
With learners and trainees attending classes and programs that offer support services close at hand, Native literacy practitioners work daily amid the added turmoil of implementing stricter program requirements mandated by their main (and often sole) funder - the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. Native literacy workers must massage the program to meet the funders needs, the host agencys needs, the communitys needs - and risk losing sight of meeting the learners needs. It is a precarious balancing act involving one (rarely two) staff, with the occasional extra project added to the load every once in a while. Knowing there is a need for Native literacy programs and finding ways to meet that need is part of the rationale for this project.
The Need for the Project (as per original proposal)
The need for increased access to and awareness of various literacy programs for Native people in Toronto is demonstrated by continuing low literacy levels and high dropout rates from training programs. Given the difficulties in attracting suitable learners to Native literacy programs, our statistics and documentation indicate that we are accessing no more than 10 per cent of the current potential client base.
In order to make literacy services available to clients who require them, we need to develop combined and innovative access channels. Operating in isolation is no longer an efficient or viable alternative for Native programs, as evidenced by our cost-per-contact hour when compared to non-Native programs. It has become imperative that we develop strong linkages and partnerships with other community stakeholders. This will increase the effectiveness of outreach efforts, while decreasing cost per contact hour. This ambitious undertaking will be considered successful only if we conclude with a series of recommendations that provide for continued increased access and awareness, and programs that meet and address the needs of Native learners. Our MTCU field consultant, who has also emphasized the increasing need for such a strategy to meet the needs of the community, has in part directed the development of this project.
|° "Urban Aboriginal Child Poverty: A
Status Report on Aboriginal Children and Their Families," Ontario
Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC), October 2000
2 Ibid, page 26.
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