Donald Lurette made an interesting presentation to the board of ANSCLO on January 15, 2013. Donald began his talk reflecting on his experiences working in a small community based organization in Eastern Ontario, similar to community learning organizations in Nova Scotia. This was in the yearly 90s and despite the fact that there were many plants closing at that time and there was high unemployment, Le CAP was having difficulty attracting learners. At the same time, the International Adult Literacy Survey had just been published which suggested that 42% of the Anglophones, and over 60% of Francophones in Canada were struggling with low literacy. Why weren’t they seeing more people in their programs?
Another interesting finding from the IALS survey was that some of the adults in the low literacy categories had completed secondary education and that the most important factor influencing one’s literacy level was whether or not the skills were applied in a real-life setting. Skills are like muscles, and if there isn’t an opportunity for an application to skill in a real contacts in the roads quite quickly. “Long-term application of skills is what brings people’s levels up”.
Lurette referenced a study by Stephen Reder from of Portland University, which followed over 1000 high school dropouts over a 10-year period. The study is remarkable in that they were able to keep in touch with 90% of those in the study over such a long period of time. Of those they were able to maintain contact with, 60% had been involved in some kind of adult education program and 40% not. What they found was that there was no real difference between improvements in the literacy levels of those who participated in programs and those who did not. However, there were differences between programs, and those programs that applied skills did much better than those that did not.
His organization, Le CAP, Centre d’apprentissage et de perfectionnement, went through a period of reflection and came to the conclusion that they needed to make their offerings more relevant to adult learners. In Lurette’s words, “community groups like ours are often forced, by funding agencies, into a more linear, academic paradigm: we prepare them for something else which prepares them for something else”.
This led them to develop programming in partnership with other organizations that offered different kinds of training, both technical training and generic skills (soft skills) training. “Adults are complex, and their needs are complex. It is not reasonable to expect one organization to be able to provide everything they need”. One of the most interesting integrated skills programs involved working with laid-off plant workers who had effectively been millwrights, but had no papers. Once laid-off they could not find work because they did not have the papers. And because they lacked a grade 12 or GED they could not get into a college to become certified, and without work they could not get into the apprenticeship program to get their credentials that way.
Le CAP managed to convince Employment Ontario and a local college to open up the millwright program to these adults so that they could work on technical skills in the college while learning basic skills at the same time with Le Cap.
Lurette is now working as a consultant and has continued to promote the use integrated skills projects. Is currently working on a project with Ghislaine D’eon in Argyle. We look forward to hearing more about this project in the coming months.