Education: Learning to Live in Canada

by Gilda Spitz

“Learning doesn’t stop the day you leave school,” says Susan Nielsen. This is a lady who is passionate about adult education. The articulate executive director of Toronto Adult Student Association (TASA) has been involved in the field of adult education for over 15 years, fighting for funds and support so that adults of all ages and backgrounds can continue to improve their lives through learning.

Adult Education In Ontario

Nielsen’s journey began over a decade ago with an organization called Adult Students Against Bill 160 (ASAB160). One of the legacies of Bill 160, which became law in Ontario in 1997, despite the protests of many community groups, was a 70 percent reduction in funding for adult education – a drop from about $7000 to $2500 per student. This not only reduced programming, it also withdrew funding for most support services that provided advice, library access, and the use of essential equipment such as computers for adult learners.

From a legislative point of view, there have been small advances in adult education since then. There has been a slight increase in school board adult education budgets. As well, the government issued the Ontario Learns report, which helped to define adult education in
Ontario.

Despite these small improvements, we “still have a long way to go to recover what we have lost,” says Nielsen. ASAB160 evolved into TASA to provide a voice for adult learners in Ontario in 1999, and continues to deal with issues concerning adult education.

TASA

TASA is a membership-based organization that helps adults reach their educational goals by providing referral to all types of courses. In addition, TASA provides support and connection to community and government services including childcare, immigration, health, international education and professional credential evaluation, public libraries, tenants’ rights, and trade certification.

Nielsen believes that all governments must “come together to deliver quality programming.” She explains why her cause is so important with a shocking statistic: “42 percent of all adult Canadians have trouble reading a newspaper,” she says. Many jobs that used to accept applicants with just a high school diploma are now requiring some sort of post-secondary education – even jobs “on the floor” in the auto sector. In a knowledge based economy, she stresses, continuing adult education at any age is more important than ever.

In a 2006 article in the Toronto Star, it was estimated that at U of T, York, and Ryerson universities alone, approximately 50,000 students were enrolled in continuing, adult education, or non-degree studies. Of Humber’s 54,000 annual registrations that year, 67 percent of the students were between the ages of 25 and 44.

What Does This Have To Do With Newcomers?

Although the concept of adult education applies to many cultures regardless of origin, it is particularly important to newcomers to Canada. Many come here with degrees and work experience from their home countries, but they often need help with the English language, and they need Canadian know-how before they can find a meaningful job.

That’s where TASA comes in. For many newcomers, part of the solution is classes in English as a Second Language (ESL), but that’s just the beginning. Many can benefit greatly from “bridging” programs offered by several colleges and universities.

Bridging programs help newcomers cross the gap between their foreign education and the knowledge required for the Canadian workplace. Bridging programs often consist of two years of schooling, covering Canadian regulations, terminology, and practices, and sometimes including valuable internships and mentoring.

Bridging programs are “the fastest route to where newcomers were back home,” explains Nielsen.

Recently “there has been an explosion of programming geared to new Canadians,” says Nielsen, and the educational pathway can be bewildering. With a staff of four employees plus 16 volunteers, TASA serves as “one-stop shopping for learning opportunities in Toronto.”

Adult learning is so much more than just traditional school subjects. Newcomers need to learn everything “from ESL to life skills;” for example, how to find daycare, how to use the banking system, how to establish credit, and how to deal with unfair landlords.

Nielsen explains that these learning experiences are just as important as academics and language, because a newcomer who is worried about finances, the safe care of a child, or the living conditions in an apartment, cannot concentrate on preparing for a job.

In addition to one-on-one advice for clients, TASA is also involved in several important community initiatives, including Family Literacy Day, ESL Week, and International Adult Learners Week. To summarize her feelings on the importance of continuing education for adults, Susan Nielsen quotes the ancient wisdom of Confucius:

Tell me, and I will forget;
Teach me and I will learn;
Include me and I will understand.

For More Information…

Contact TASA at:
• The Bickford Centre, 777 Bloor Street West, Room 122, Toronto
• 416-393-0242
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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