June 22, 2005
Dear Minister Chambers and Minister Kennedy,
As you both know, Ontario has a long, rich history of adult education. For the past decade, the policies of the provincial government have not built on this history. During the course of my review of adult education, I found broad agreement among all involved that Ontario lacks a cohesive system of adult education. In 1994, former president of Lakehead University Bob Rosehart made the statement that adult education is much like an archipelago without a good ferry system. My advice to you is that we are dealing with much the same situation today.
Adult learners live complex lives. Their re-entry into the learning environment, in many instances, requires a profound leap of courage, and yet their learning success is integral to the health of our communities and our economy. These learners are the parents of the children in our public schools. They are newcomers whose expertise we require in our workforce. They are young adults who want to contribute but need to find a way back into the education system before they can enter the workforce. Often, they are students at risk of leaving school, even 16- and 17-year olds, who can benefit from strategies used in adult programs. And they are seniors who will stay healthy and mobile if they are able to remain active in the community.
While there are excellent programs in every community across the province, increasingly in recent years school boards, community colleges, community organizations, and other delivery agencies have struggled to keep their programs in place. During our meetings and from the many submissions we received through the review process, we were told that there is a need for greater recognition and a "home" for adult education at the provincial level. We were told that links between programs should be stronger so that learners can more clearly see their way into the system and the path forward, whether this be to employment, postsecondary opportunities, or greater independence and participation in the community. We were told that solid funding and accountability are important, and that encouragement of innovation at the local level is critical.
One of the central tensions that exists in the field of adult education in Ontario is whether these programs should be located within the secondary school system or within the community college system. This debate does not recognize the role of the many community agencies, local training boards, TVOntario's Independent Learning Centre, employers, unions, libraries, social planning councils, universities, and federal and municipal governments involved in these endeavours. My conclusion and my recommendation is that all of these systems — school, college, and all the variety of creative partnerships — have a role to play in the delivery of programs to adult students. One of the reasons it is important for our provincial government to establish a focus on adult education is to encourage creative solutions to particular local problems and to support the strengths of all deliverers.
Community-oriented adult education should involve people at every stage of life and should act as a bridge between groups within communities. This includes seniors and inter-generational groups of learners that benefit from each other's learning.