It was a hoax...

Parents need to stop raising their children on the principles that they must beat everyone in their class, that their school needs to rise up the league tables, or for their country to defeat every other nation on Earth in global education rankings.
We need to stop pushing our kids, by The Guardian

I read this earlier today and immediately thought about those of us in adult education and our battles against the reduction of student achievements to the human capital profit margin. Here are some excerpts from A Layperson's Guide to PIAAC by Brigid Hayes that explain how this process works in Canada.
We live in an age of accountability, performance measurement, the adage that whatever can be measured matters. PIAAC and its predecessor surveys define what matters for literacy practice in this country. ...

In this country, we seem to have an extraordinary emphasis on the five levels to the exclusion of alternative ways of measuring progress demonstrating progress. Literacy discourse relies heavily on questions of literacy levels, how many hours will it take to move somebody from one level to another. ...

Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen a shift to have benchmarks that speak almost exclusively of literacy as a work-related practice. Now I would agree that work is where many of us spend most of our time and that workplace practices can contribute to or inhibit the development of literacy practice. But the political discourse in this country has placed literacy as only a workplace and economic issue. Literacy’s role in social cohesion and societal stability is ignored. Other venues for literacy practice and growth, venues such as the community and the family, appear undervalued. ...
We’ve set up a dichotomy between literacy as a social good and literacy as an economic good. Here in Canada, with the jurisdictions split between federal and provincial responsibilities, we have the federal government leading the charge on the economic value of literacy with the provinces focusing on literacy as a form of adult or second chance education. Provinces have been dividing responsibility for literacy from responsibility for workplace training, the latter which is now, more often than not, focused on essential skills.

At the national level, government is focused on results, not necessarily educators or practice. It seems more important to show movement from one level to another. For example, we have funders asking that curriculum focus on one essential skill at a time.

IALS was easy to understand – it mimics grade levels. Levels resemble the grade system that certainly policymakers understand. When I was in government I had a director general say to me, and I quote, “IALS is the ultimate report card,”– he was planning to use it as a means to determine whether we had been successful. ...

PIAAC puts the attention on the individual. Yet the environment in which we are being asked to use the skills is just as important as the skills we have. I could have all the skills in the world only to find that the work environment or personal environment do not demand that I use them. In that case, I am not going to value those skills. By the same token, it’s imperative that we not create barriers of unclear writing and unnecessarily complex text. It’s not just about the individual.

PIAAC and its focus on the individual give short shrift to the challenges faced by adults who are trying to improve their skills. This is not some sort of mechanical process. We need quality programs that are accessible with sufficient funding, teacher training,and resources. Learners need support such as income replacement, childcare, transportation. We need adult friendly programming and institutions. The culture here in Canada values youth education and formal education. This is why adult education sits at the margins. This is why informal education is not valued.

#bringbackcopian - They did!

Copian is back!

It came back in a somewhat reduced state, but it is back.

And thank goodness for that. I finally heard back about my query to Jason Kenney's office on Friday but the letter was a quite disheartening I did not share it with you.
Dear Ms. Mollins:

On behalf of the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, I am responding to your email of July 27, 2014, concerning funding for Copian and access to a doctoral thesis.

Until recently, a portion of the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills’ (OLES) annual budget was allocated for core funding that supported several literacy organizations. In order to enhance transparency, maximize the impact of available funding and level the playing field for stakeholders, OLES has shifted from core funding to project-based funding.

Please be assured that Employment and Social Development Canada remains committed to helping Canadians develop the literacy and essential skills they need to succeed at work and to contribute to a strong and competitive Canadian economy and prosperous society. OLES continues to accept proposals that support this objective. In 2014-2015, Employment and Social Development Canada has allocated approximately $27 million to support projects that lead to Canadians improving their literacy and essential skills to get and keep a job and be successful in the workplace.

In addition, please note that the paper you are seeking, Illiteracy and Poverty in Canada: Towards a Critical Perspective, is available from the University of Toronto Library.

Thank you for writing.

I'll just leave this here for now. I think all the readers of this blog will understand immediately how it demonstrates that the Minister is not interested in working with the not for profit sector on adult literacy education or creating a pan-Canadian literacy strategy that provides "all Canadians with the support and empowerment that so many of us take for granted" without me parsing every line. 

Jobs, jobs, jobs!

And readers of Brigid Hayes' blog will know that the Harper government has allowed allocated literacy funds to lapse year after year.
But for all of us who do not have access to the University of Toronto library, Illiteracy and Poverty in Canada: Towards a Critical Perspective is again available here.

Joy, joy, joy!

Copian still needs our help. Instead of buying a University of Toronto reader card, I donated a bit of dosh to Copian. The literacy community is not a good place to find extra funds these days - or ever :) - but if you have any rich friends, send them over here.

And just to cheer us up, I'll also leave this here. It starts on chapter 4, page 2 of Illiteracy and Poverty in Canada: Towards a Critical Perspective:

A Critical Perspective
As we have seen, both the liberal and conservative perspectives see deficiencies and shortcomings of the poor as a primary cause of poverty and unemployment. According to this "deficiency model", labour markets and the economy in Canada distribute success and failure more or less 'fairly' based on effort, abilities and qualifications. Therefore, the difficulties experienced by individuals in achieving adequate employment and income can in large measure be attributed to their personal shortcomings, which in the view of liberals mainly consist of lack of basic education, life skills and job skills ("human capital"), and in the view of orthodox conservatives consist of more fundamental deficiencies which cannot be easily or efficiently corrected, if at all.

In contrast, the critical perspective rejects the personal deficiency model. Its adherents share the view that the Canadian economy and its labour market are far from fair, and that in fact they constitute the primary source of poverty and unemployment. In effect, a new explanatory variable--i.e. the capitalist economic structure--is introduced into the discussion of illiteracy and poverty. For example, Canadian adult literacy specialist Anthony R. Berezowecki argues:
Much attention is given to the characteristics and deficiencies of the disadvantaged themselves .... Little or no consideration, on the other hand, seems to be given to what effect the operation of the existing Canadian socio-economic system has on the disadvantaged.... far greater attention must be paid to the hypothesis that the existence of such a large number of economically disadvantaged people in a rich country like Canada is the direct or indirect result of the present socio-economic system
Paul Belanger of the Institute Canadien d'Education des Adultes in Montreal suggests that the Canadian economy is based on what he terms a "structure of inequality". On one hand, there are adults with opportunities to pursue their academic and occupational goals. On the other hand there are those adults who inhabit a "socio-economic desert". For example, Berezowecki cites statistics which show that the national income share of the latter group actually shrank between 1965 and 1971. The top 20% of income earners increased their share of the total income 'pie' in Canada from 45.% to 48.5%, while the bottom 20% of income earners lost part of their already meagre share, dropping from 3.7% to 2.9%.

Belanger recognizes that there is indeed a high correlation between illiteracy and poverty, but he questions the interpretation put forward by the liberal perspective, i.e. that it is a causal association:
A high proportion of illiterates was... revealed in many ... reports on poverty and social inequality.... It was felt that, if there was unemployment, it was because the workers lacked the necessary skills. Hard-core poverty was attributed ... to poor social integration and the absence of channels of communication with society as a whole. The answer was clear: massive literacy and occupational programs.... But are education and training the answer?
He argues that illiteracy does not cause inequality; rather, it reflects it, and to some degree helps to reinforce it. He says, "cultural handicaps reflect, rather than produce, structures of inequality," and "...illiteracy is not a causal factor, but rather, a symptom of a more deep-seated problem: that of maintaining the structures of inequality.
 Plus ça change...

Language Wars Update: Bias and Neutrality

In the Language Wars post, I wondered why think tanks had not yet been subjected to the Canada Revenue Agency audits that many see as targeted harassment of organizations that do work in contradiction to various Conservative doctrines that usually contain some version of "you're with me or you're with the pedophiles/anti-semites/communists..."

It seemed that I might have been mixing up categories of organizations that are eligible for charitable status and that think tanks are in a category that do not have to help the poor in order to retain their status.

Last week the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was singled out for a CRA audit because
"A review of the Organization's website, as well as the previous audit findings, suggests that the Organization may be carrying out prohibited partisan political activities, and that much of its research/educational materials may be biased/one-sided."

That led to questions about whether right-wing think tanks are also undergoing audits and having their activities questioned.
Among right-leaning or pro-business think-tanks in Canada, two — the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa — have confirmed to The Canadian Press they are not currently under audit for political activities. Two others — the Fraser Institute in Vancouver and the Montreal Economic Institute — have declined to comment on the matter.
On Friday, the Fraser Institute president, Niels Veldhuis, claimed that the work of his think tank is not biased but data based.

Hee hee.
Press Progress published an article today that deftly disputes the claim that the Fraser Institute is unbiased.

Neo-liberalism has taken a strong hold over policy debates in Canada and other G20 countries - we cannot talk about anything from education to health care to the environment to transportation to foreign policy with out including discussions of the positive impacts of privatization, free trade, open markets, deregulation, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. Neo-liberalism has become our political lingua franca. Perhaps the Fraser Institute people do not see the bias in their work because of this.

I wonder what Brazilian adult educator Paulo Friere would say to Niels Veldhuis. Perhaps he would say this:
“The educator has the duty of not being neutral.”
 From We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change (1990)
Or perhaps:
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral."
Or he might speak to us instead:
Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system - to the degree that this happens, we are also becoming submerged in a new "Culture of Silence".”

Hang in there CCPA - we need your kind of bias as we foster a Culture of Noise!


#bringbackcopian - Writing to @JinnySims

I  wrote to Jinny Sims and Sadia Groguhé on July 4, 2014:
Hello there,

I looked up the NDP shadow cabinet and saw that you are the Employment and Social Development critics.

I am sending along a link to Carol Goar's article from today about the cuts to the adult literacy database at Copian because she has collected a lot of interesting information there:

That is me quoted in the column. I know that there is little hope of getting the government to reverse this funding decision but I want as many people as possible to know about it.

I am sure you are following this issue and may already know about the article but I also know that you are very busy people. Thanks for that by the way. You may not hear it a lot but we appreciate it. I cheer along every time I hear Jinny on Power and Politics.
Tracey Mollins
 And Jinny wrote back on August 7 (sorry - I have been away):

Thank you for writing to me and passing along a copy of that article.  I sincerely apologize for not responding earlier.

I have already written to the Minister with my concerns over the number of organizations I have heard from who have faced funding problems because of delays and cuts.  The organizations provide invaluable services to youth and new immigrants, who often find themselves even more alone and in need of greater support with literacy. We all too quickly overlook the services that are crucial for providing all Canadians with the support and empowerment that so many of us take for granted.

Again, thank you for bringing the article to my attention.  Please feel free to contact me again should you have any other comments.


A Quick Rest by Joshua Rome
Ah yes ... support and empowerment. Remember those days...

#bringbackcopian - Writing to Minister Kenney

I took up Tracy Defoe's suggestion and sent a message to Jason Kenney with a cc to my MP, Peggy Nash.

Hello Minister Kenney,

I hope this message finds you well.

I am looking for a copy of a paper called Illiteracy and Poverty in Canada: Towards a Critical Perspective, a doctoral thesis by Harold Alden who worked for many years for the Literacy and Basic Skills Program at Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. This paper was formerly housed at Copian.

I understand that funding cuts by ESDC have resulted in the closure of the online library. Can you please tell me how I can find this resource, and others, now that Copian is closed? My online search has come up empty.

Tracey Mollins

I included my address but won't post that part on the internet :)

I have heard back from workers in Peggy Nash's office and Jason Kenny's office.

Jason Kenney's office go back to me on Monday and told me that my message has been forwarded to the people at Employment and Skills Development Canada who can help me. I'll let you know when I hear from them.

A person from Peggy Nash's office got back to me on Tuesday. She told me that she had had searched the web for the paper and also been unable to find it. She called Copian to see  if there was any other way to get the paper. She found out
Unfortunately at this time, the Board of Directors has not decided what they are going to do with the materials they used to house – if they are going to make them available another way, for example. I suggest that you contact them for further information. I called their toll free number, 1-800-720-6253, and found them very helpful.
She let me know that
I have taken the liberty of forwarding your email (without your street address) to [a staff person] at Copian. [The Copian staff person] wanted your email to show the CEO of Copian, as the Board is deciding how to go forward after the loss of funding. I have also shared your concerns with Jinny Sims, the Official Opposition Critic for Employment and Social Development.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Ms. Nash, [my colleague] or me if there is anything else we can do on this issue. If you do get a response from Minister Kenney, we would be interested in seeing it, if possible.
I certainly will.

We have seen a lot of losses in our field over the past few years (An Icy Alexandria).

I was the publisher of Literacies and we lost eligibility for funding with the demise of the National Literacy Secretariat.

The editor - Tannis Atkinson - and I looked at ways to keep the journal going but found none. One of our concerns was that, as a journal that brought information about research in practice projects to our community and our international partners, with the cuts to research in practice that accompanied the closing of the NLS, our pages would be a little bare. We wanted to keep a focus on the Canadian context and as the Canadian government has opted out of the international conversation on this (Counting Research), it was not just a funding issue for us.

We now realize we should have been in touch with the NDP a lot sooner :P

Thank you NDP for supporting a community building approach to literacy learning and political engagement.

You have the right to go to school

This video was made in 2008. I think it is a good time to watch it again. There is probably a good reason every day to be reminded about what the best of us strive for but there are times when that need feels especially pressing.

Here is the bit about what we do:
You have the right to go to school.

Education should strive to promote peace and understanding among
all people.
Not a word about productivity or a firm's bottom line :)

Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer under house arrest

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 26
  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Saluting Thérèse Casgrain

Language Wars

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."  
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." 
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
quoted from here.

If you live in Canada you probably have heard about the semantic spat brewing between Oxfam Canada and The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
The Canada Revenue Agency has told a well-known charity that it can no longer try to prevent poverty around the world if it wants to keep its charitable status for tax purposes. It can only alleviate poverty — because preventing poverty might benefit people who are not already poor. ...

Agency officials informed Oxfam that "preventing poverty" was not an acceptable goal.
"Relieving poverty is charitable, but preventing it is not," the group was warned.
"Preventing poverty could mean providing for a class of beneficiaries that are not poor."

Curious? You bet. So curious that all over the internet people have been deriding the notion preventing something is not a charitable activity.

Some people have been proposing that the CRA mastery over language is actually a sign of the agency's deference to its political masters.

Some have asked about the CRA definition of poverty.

"What about diseases?" others point out. Preventing malaria benefits people who are rich as well as people who are poor. It may benefit people who have less access to good medical care more than those who do but it does have benefits for everyone regardless of income level.

All charitable enterprises have ripple effects.

When I went to work in a community-based literacy program that uses volunteer tutors, I was surprised at how much more time I spent with tutors than I did with learners. All tutors get 15-hours of training before they start to tutor and then one-to-one support from program staff as they hone their tutoring skills.

I was also surprised at how many letters of reference I was asked to write for tutors. Often they used these letters to get into school - especially teacher's college - or to get better work. No literacy learner ever asked for a letter of reference for school or employment purposes. The fact that literacy volunteers can use their experience on resumes and applications while literacy learners often feel they must hide their participation in a program made me question who the real beneficiaries of community-based literacy are.

People in the not-for-profit sector often point to the ripple effects to encourage funding from public and private sources.

In our field, people can be heard to say, "When people learn to read and write better, they are more productive at work which benefits employers; make fewer mistakes and cost employers and governments less in health claims; access social services, unemployment benefits and health care systems less and cost governments and tax payers less." They do this because they think that arguing for how literacy education benefits people living in poverty and people who are marginalized in the labour market alone will fall on deaf ears. People in our field have been encouraged to highlight a return on investment when approaching potential funders. Of course this has led to a situation where funders demand to see evidence of that return over how the work is benefiting the people accessing the educational resources - but that is another story.

UPDATE: I think this blog post should end here. A careful reader on Twitter pointed out that I may be confusing registered charities with non-profit organizations and sent me a link to the CRA page that explains the difference

All three think tanks discussed below CAN provide tax receipts for donations and that is why I wrote about them as registered charities. The page linked above tells us that registered charities can have different designations: "a charitable organization, a public foundation, or a private foundation." 

It also explains that 
Examples under the four categories of charity generally include:

  • relief of poverty (food banks, soup kitchens, low-cost housing units)
  • advancement of education (colleges, universities, research institutes)
  • advancement of religion (places of worship, missionary organizations)
  • purposes beneficial to the community (animal shelters, libraries, volunteer fire departments) 
It seems that in comparing the think tanks and Oxfam, I have been comparing oranges and apples - or at least oranges and tangerines. Oxfam may fall into the relief of poverty category and the think tanks into the advancement of education category and members of each group probably have to meet different criteria to maintain charitable status under CRA rules. Or some other aspect of the law that I do not understand.

Thanks to @RyanDeschamps - the careful reader who took the time to help me learn more about this. If anyone knows more, please add a comment below or send me a tweet.
What about other organizations with charitable status? How do they benefit people currently living in poverty as defined by CRA? Let us look at a some oft cited think tanks.

What about the C.D. Howe Institute? This is the organization that prepared the report on the Temporary Foreign Workers program we talked about yesterday? Their mission statement reads:
The C. D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. 
Curious. No mention of how this impacts the living standards of people currently living in poverty only.

They go on to say:
It is Canada’s trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review. It is considered by many to be Canada’s most influential think tank.
Okay then.

What have they done? Here is what they say on the Policy Impact page:
Institute policy intelligence has laid the intellectual ground for such fundamental achievements as:
  • The development of continental free trade;
  • Ending the unsustainable deficits of the 1970s and 1980s;
  • The development of rigorous inflation targets and tactically effective monetary policy;
  • The reform of the Canadian and Quebec pension plans;
  • Lower and more competitive tax rates; and
  • The development of a key new saving vehicle, the Tax Free Saving Account.
I'll leave it to you to evaluate who might be the beneficiaries of these fundamental achievements.

What about The Fraser Institute?
The Fraser Institute measures and studies the impact of markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals. ... We are involved in research on a wide range of topics, such as the quality of education, health care, and the overall tax burden of Canadians.
On their donation page they state:
Thank you for helping The Fraser Institute in the pursuit of free choice, competitive markets and less government regulation.
Again, I'll leave it to you to evaluate who might be the beneficiaries of these pursuits but I would posit that it is not only people currently living in poverty.

What about equal time for the lefties:
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social, economic and environmental justice. Founded in 1980, the CCPA is one of Canada’s leading progressive voices in public policy debates.
And even curiouser...
The Broadbent Institute is an independent, non-partisan organization championing progressive change through the promotion of democracy, equality, and sustainability and the training of a new generation of leaders. We are proud of Canada’s tradition as a diverse, fair, just, and inclusive society. 
But due to their political work, they are not a registered charity - no tax rebate here.

I think we can all can forgive Canadians if they are confused and stunned by the CRA definition of poverty, prevention and charity.


Papers that matter:

ICYMI, you may find the 1977 paper by Sidney Pratt, Naldi Nomez and Patricio Urzua, Literacy: Charitable Enterprise or Political Right still quite relevant.

This paper was available at Copian.

Write to Jason Kenney to ask for it :)

I have posted it here in the meantime.

Employer Driven

On July 23, 2013 Scott Armstrong, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development (yes, this Scott Alexander), hosted a roundtable on how to strengthen the Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs).
This is part of a series of roundtables that Mr. Armstrong will host, in cooperation with provincial and territorial governments, across Canada.

As part of its plan for creating jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity, the Government of Canada is committed to strengthening LMDAs to reorient training toward labour market demand. It is expected that the new LMDAs will better connect Canadians with available jobs by ensuring they have access to training for the skills employers need. Funded through the Employment Insurance (EI) program, the Government of Canada transfers over $2 billion annually to the provinces and territories through the LMDAs to provide skills training to EI clients and employment services to all unemployed Canadians.

The roundtables give governments, employers, and other stakeholders an opportunity to discuss how to make the LMDAs more employer-driven [emphasis mine] and responsive to the needs of the labour market. The roundtables also give the Government of Canada valuable insight on local skills shortages and gaps.

"Through Economic Action Plan 2014, our Government continues to create jobs and pave the way for long-term prosperity by putting skills training at the forefront. The new generation of Labour Market Development Agreements will result in greater employer involvement in training to ensure that Canadians are equipped with the skills employers need now and in the future. "

We have noted on this blog many times, with some dismay, the Conservative Government's privileging of the employer perspective when analyzing and creating policy. We are concerned that, as the government is not collecting its own labour market data, that this privileging of one perspective may lead to an imbalance that will not serve Canadian workers, immigrants and lifelong learners well. How will the government evaluate what it is hearing from employers?

In the face of the C.D. Howe Institute publishing a report that shows the Temporary Foreign Worker program is contributing to high unemployment rates and Don Drummond critiquing the data that was used to set the criteria for the TFW program, Minister Jason Kenney has been pushing back quite effectively against employers who claim that they will go out of business if they cannot use employees brought to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker program. He says that he has based his decisions about reforms to that program on "evidence, research and data - not on anecdotes and not on political pressure from certain interests."
"Transition plans will oblige employers of high-wage temporary foreign workers to help Canadians obtain in-demand skills through activities like investing in skills training or taking on more apprentices, or an employer can provide proof that they are helping a high-skilled temporary foreign worker transition to becoming a permanent resident of Canada," Alexandra Fortier said in an email, quoting directly from the new rules posted on the Employment and Social Development Canada website. 

That is welcome news but unless the government starts collecting comprehensive labour market data, how can its ministers create labour market policy that meets the needs of Canadian workers, Canadians who are not currently working and would like to, Canadians who are underemployed or who are working in temporary or precarious conditions, Canadians who are over-skilled for the jobs they are doing, Canadians who are looking to increase their skills to meet labour market demands, Canadians who face discrimination in the labour market, Canadians who cannot find work for wages that will sustain them in the Canadian economy, people who come to Canada to work, people who immigrate to Canada and employers.
The biggest problem is that Canada still lacks a single, national body in charge of overseeing and increasing the amount and quality of employment data in Canada, Drummond says.

Statistics Canada logs the official employment rate ... but movements to beef up Statistics Canada's weapons in tracking data, or to create another government agency solely tasked with jobs data, have fallen short due to lack of political will and budget cutbacks.

I hope Jason Kenney uses the same critical eye, and ear, at the LMDA roundtables as he does when listening to the employers who argue for increased access to temporary foreign workers.

Bringing Copian to Question Period

My colleague and Parkdale - High Park riding mate wrote to our Member of Parliament, Peggy Nash about the cuts to literacy funding and the resulting closure of Copian (#bringbackcopian). We have permission to publish her words here and I wanted to share them with you.
Dear _____,
Thank you so much for reaching out to my staff about the recent funding cut for COPIAN. I know that this database was a tremendous resource for many in the literacy community. The government’s changes in this area have not gone unnoticed. I have worked with Parkdale Project Read and others around changes to the Labour Market Agreements in the wake of the Canada Jobs Grant’s rocky implementation. I have also written Minister Kenney on this to voice my opposition to any loss of federal funding for literacy programs.
This issue of literacy funding has been brought up by the NDP in Question Period, as recently as May 30 ( I will continue to raise this issue, including the loss of COPIAN,  both directly to the government and through our Official Opposition Critic for ESDC.
Again, thank you for contacting us about this.
Kind regards,
Peggy Nash
Member of Parliament - Députée | Parkdale - High Park

We at the Literacy Enquirer thank Peggy Nash for her work on the LMAs and the Job Grant Program and we thank the NDP for helping us to shine a light on what these cuts mean to our community, our field and people engaged in lifelong learning. Click on the link on the letter to see the NDP question and the response from the Employment and Skills Development Canada Parliamentary Secretary, Scott Armstrong or read the screen grab below. You can see that Scott Armstong is right on talking points here and is reading from the same script as Alexandra Fortier.


What we measure matters

3 Standard Stoppages

Literacy workers often hear about how increases in literacy levels in a population will increase GDP in the country where that population lives.

What does this mean?

GDP is a country's Gross Domestic Product. This is all the "officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a year."

The term was first used by economist Simon Kuznets in 1934 and became the main tool for measuring a country's economy in 1944. Kuznets warned against using GDP to measure standard of living because there is no evidence that all citizens benefit equally from their country's increased economic production.

His warning was not heeded :)

The measure assumes that all things that are produced are sold and that all the people who produce things earn an income for doing so. GDP does not count things that are produced that do not go to market or do not produce income for the producer.

The "increased literacy equals increased GDP" people say that workers who increase their literacy levels will also increase their level of productivity and will have a positive impact on GDP. Of course, an increase in literacy levels only leads to increased productivity if it leads to increased access to work and increased incomes. Some literacy workers argue that the mechanisms whereby certain citizens can benefit from investments in their human capital are much more complex

Feminists also question the validity of GDP for a variety of reasons.

One reason is that domestic work (child rearing, household maintenance, care-giving, etc.), which is most often performed by women, is not marketed or income generating and does not get factored into measures of GDP. This "women's work" is therefore not "officially recognized" as work and women's contributions to the economy go largely uncounted.

Another is that GDP, as Kuznets warned, cannot reflect how different people and different groups of people benefit from increased productivity differently.

We talk about income inequality quite on this blog. The World Bank World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development and the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2012 map the intersection of income inequality and gender over time and worldwide.

Canada rates pretty well in comparison to other countries but women still make 73 cents to the dollar that men earn and the gap has actually widened a little since 2011.
The key for the future of any country and any institution is the capability to develop, retain and attract the best talent. Women make up one half of the world’s human capital. Empowering and educating girls and women and leveraging their talent and leadership fully in the global economy, politics and society are thus fundamental elements of succeeding and prospering in an ever more competitive world. In particular, with talent shortages projected to become more severe in much of the developed and developing world, maximizing access to female talent is a strategic imperative for business. 
World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2012

The World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development argues that closing these gaps is a core development objective in its own right. It is also smart economics. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative.

Sound familiar? As literacy workers trying to survive the "enhancing productivity" era, we are concerned whenever we see these justifications applied to issues of social justice.
Because of this privileging of the economic, the critical role in society of reproduction -  still so undervalued – and the reality that women continue to play the primary reproductive role, gets lost or downplayed.  If we go down the road of the narrow contribution to ‘production’ in the ‘economy’, we are likely to further undervalue the major contribution of women in reproduction. We also further the pressure on women to have to contribute in the recognised ‘production’ part of the ‘economy’ (if they are to have recognition and respect) while they also have to continue playing the primary role in reproduction – more stress for women, less value of their role = problem. This argument of course should not undermine the absolute right of women to have the same opportunities for participation in production when they choose to.
As Marilyn [Waring], explains, what we measure matters. When driving towards specific goals in, say, increasing the GDP to show growth, policies change to encourage economic growth, but remove costs in social growth. For example, a country wanting to increase the GDP may remove or reduce fines on companies that commit environmental damage in order to raise that company’s yearly earnings and shift the burden onto the education system, an ostensible drain on the economy.
Author/Entrepreneur Tara Hunt on the influence of Marilyn Waring
- from the National Film Board of Canada Blog

Take this job...

 If you were around in the 80s, you know what comes next :)

I don't really mean that we should "shove it" when it comes to jobs but simply that the work we do is about so much more than that.

And here is some support for that idea.

Jian Ghomeshi from RadioQ did an essay on literacy and funding this morning.
Literacy not just about employability

Protesters gather outside the Hants Learning Network in Nova Scotia to rally against cuts to literacy programming. (CBC)
Copian, formerly known as the National Adult Literacy Database, has lost funding from Canada's federal government.

In light of this, Jian reflects on Parliament's latest austerity measure and its implication for literacy across the country.

"Reading, writing, being able to find your way around your world safely and intelligently, all seem like the kinds of things anyone in Canada would support," Jian says.

The government says it no longer wants to spend money on "administration and countless research papers," and instead want to prioritize literacy for the purpose of obtaining employment.

But literacy, Jian says, does more than make you employable -- it enriches your life.
Listen to the complete essay by clicking here.

On a similar note - this post about one of those despicable research papers was on the British Psychological Society page today.
Adult education found to boost wellbeing
Participating in adult education courses could significantly improve people's wellbeing and even their health, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland collected data from three universities, three research institutes and five adult education organisations as part of the Benefits of Lifelong Learning (BeLL) project, resulting in 8,646 valid questionnaires and 82 interviews across ten countries.

The researchers examined the responses of adult learners participating in non-vocational courses over a year and discovered that studying boosted their self-confidence and wellbeing, as well as expanding their social networks.

Tolerance for others grew, learners paid more attention to their health and some even reported changes in their work and career opportunities.

Adult education was found to be particularly beneficial for people with a lower educational level.

The age of the participants also influenced the benefits they achieved - younger people said it made them feel more in control of their lives, while older age groups reported adult education as being able to soften the transitions related to ageing, such as bereavement.

Commenting on the project, the authors suggested that "liberal adult education should be better taken into consideration both in national and EU-level education policy, and that a more systematic approach should be taken towards the utilisation its clear benefits on wellbeing".

Last summer we covered the Generation X Report, which found that many people born between the early 1960s and early 1980s are choosing to engage in lifelong learning.

Debating Literacy Funding

WE LEARN is a place where we can hear learner ideas about policy and practice.

WE LEARN Board Secretary Shellie Walters has written an interesting piece on government funding for adult education and literacy programs. She writes about the US context but Canadadians will relate to much of what she says especially in light of the recent toppling of our mainstays.

Here is Shellie's Board bio:
“I am a student that started with my local program in 1999 reading at a fourth grade level and then got involved with WE LEARN and then started working on Women’s Perspectives. I am now on the board and my role is the secretary. I have come a long way and I am currently in my second year of college.
And here is a little of what she has to say:
Looking back at the question of why the government is giving money to Adult literacy programs both to college and community based programs. On the pro side, currently the tax payers are only providing enough money for 3% on the individuals that require the assistance to get help. 43% of individuals with a lack of skills are living poverty. If the adults in a household have necessary skills the children of that household are more likely to have the skills too. When I started looking at the con side, even I thought that I would find more evidence to support that side. What I found, the more that I researched these arguments that I have heard, was that they are based on rhetoric and fallacies.  
Read more here.

Bring Back Copian

Carol Goar wrote about the latest round of federal funding cuts and the closing of Copian.
For Ottawa, it’s all about productivity, competitiveness and enhanced efficiency. For the people who run shoestring literacy organizations, it is about sharing knowledge and spreading hope.
You can read her column here. She quotes one of us and some of the people who posted on the Copian page.

Read her column and leave a comment.

Here are some other things you can do:
M. Elisabeth Barot,
Education Programme Officer,
The Canadian Commission for UNESCO

Or, as Tracy Defoe suggested on the Copian message board, when you are looking for a resource that you used to be able to find on Copian, contact the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES).

Mailing address
Office of Literacy and Essential Skills
Employment and Social Development Canada
140 Promenade du Portage, Phase IV
Mailstop 515
Gatineau QC
K1A 0J9

or use this online contact form: 
They won't know we miss it if they don't hear that we are looking for resources and publications.- Tracy Defoe

Counting Research

Without an announcement or any consultation, it appears that the federal government has decided to quietly collapse Canada’s national literacy and essential skills network. This is happening at the same time as community literacy programs across Canada experience a seismic shift and uncertainty of sustained operations, while millions of dollars in federal funding is being effectively diverted from federal-provincial Labour Market Agreements and redirected to the unproven Canada Job Grant program.
“Our government is committed to ensuring that federal funding for literacy is no longer spent on administration and countless research papers, but instead is invested in projects that result in Canadians receiving the literacy skills they need to obtain jobs,” said Alexandra Fortier, a spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney, in an email.
For years, federal funding “was going to the same organizations to cover the costs of administration and countless research papers, instead of being used to fund projects that actually result in Canadians improving their literacy skills,” said an email from Alexandra Fortier, Kenney’s press secretary.

“These organizations were advised three years ago to give them ample time to prepare (for) the federal government changing the structure of funding through the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills to make it more effective. Canadian taxpayers will no longer fund administration of organizations, but will instead fund useful literacy projects.”

Hmmm. I wonder what Ms. Fortier means by useful?

Here is something that did get funded:
Establishing the Business Case for Workplace Essential Skills Training: UPSKILL - A Pan-Canadian Demonstration Project
Research conducted over the last decade shows significant gaps in literacy & essential skills among the Canadian workforce. In addition to having negative impacts on firms’ productivity, research suggests that workers suffer consequences of low literacy in the form of lower wages, reduced job stability & even higher health risks from workplace injury. While anecdotal evidence suggests that LES training may be helpful in eliminating these skills gaps, a strong business case for its use in the workplace has yet to be established.

In light of this, the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills aims to fill this gap by evaluating workplace LES training with the most rigorous evaluation methods & helping determine its ROI. Thus, in partnership with the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC), the Pan-Canadian research and demonstration project, UPSKILL was launched in 2010. UPSKILL utilized a random assignment design to provide the most reliable measures of the impacts of LES training in the workplace.

One of the partners for this project, OTEC (Ontario Tourism Education Corporation) describes their mission as:
Improve your business’ ability to attract, retain and develop high performers – let OTEC’s experts help to identify skill gaps, set goals and develop a customized training or standards program to achieve them. 
I guess it is no surprise that what this current government finds useful are projects that serve to meet the needs and goals of businesses and employers rather than those of learners and practitioners.

One tiny silver lining in this funding cut is that perhaps literacy organizations will no longer have to twist themselves into such odd shapes in order to secure funding from a government that views learning as valid only when it is tied to productivity gains defined by employers. On the other hand, many of these organizations may cease to exist at all.

from the Copian website on June, 9, 2014

These will be grim days for literacy learners and practitioners but we are used to grim days.

Ms. Fortier  speaks of the funding of "countless research projects." In some days that were not so grim, the federal government did fund research projects, many of them conducted by practitioners who seized the opportunity to develop, explore, test and validate promising practices. These projects were not countless. They were counted, documented and counted upon by literacy workers across Canada and internationally.

In Canada, adult literacy is a field with no formal accreditation system for practitioners. In the days of research in practice, we did better than that. We came to the field from a diversity of educational backgrounds and used all our knowledge and skills to propel our field forward. We used research in practice as our system of professional development. It worked to strengthen the work of individuals and entire communities of practice.

Granted, we were not much interested in making the business case for literacy learning or determining the impact of literacy learning on firms’ productivity. Our projects focused on how to work with literacy learners to meet their goals -- goals such as participating in their communities and communities of practice differently and gaining access to the information and resources essential to a fulfilling and joyful life.

We proposed and conducted these projects because we love our work and we believe in justice - and because justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public. We knew that this was a kind of crazy wisdom and our ROI was assessed by what learners told us about the joy of learning and about the power of learning:

Unfortunately, because of the cuts Copian has closed the database and the documentation of all this learning and wisdom is no longer available to us. Another library bites the dust.

This work belongs to us. By us I mean all Canadians because it was publicly funded and all literacy practitioners and learners because that is who who did and needs the work. Much of this work does not exist anywhere outside this database.

Please Government of Canada, and Mr. Kenney in particular, return our work to us. This is our university and you just closed it down. Is that really what you meant to do?

You can still learn about some of these projects at Literacies but, of course many of the links to the actual project reports will no longer work.

To see what others are saying about the funding cuts, see the Beyond 'Literacy as Numbers' in Canada blog and the comments on the Copian page.

Jenny Horsman at TEDx Toronto - Yes Please!

We all want to see Jenny Horsman on the Toronto TEDx roster.

You can support her application by clicking here.

Kate Nonesuch has told us how to submit the nomination form and written us a "cheat sheet" to help us with our nomination form.  You can also go to to find more about Jenny's work.

Here is what it is like when Jenny speaks

Isn't that powerful? Wouldn't be great if everyone heard that?

Fill out a nomination form and help make it happen.

Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders*
Have you been following the Temporary Foreign Workers boondoggle?

This story has been making headlines on and off for over a year now and blew up again last week.

Six other things related to this file happened this month.

  1. We were told that some employers prefer temporary foreign workers even though they are more expensive to employ because foreign workers have a better work ethic. For example:
    "They’re not going to take the day off because they have to take their dog to the vet. They’re going to show up to work on time, they're going to work a full week without disappearing," -- Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business
  2. We learned that some employers get around the temporary foreign worker regulations by hiring Irish youth through the International Experience Canada program.
    The International Experience Canada visa allows anyone aged 18-35 from 32 countries party to a bilateral youth exchange agreement with Canada to work in the country for up to two years without a Labour Market Opinion. Most participants come from Europe and Australia.

    Under most worker immigration streams, employers are required to first post the job in Canada for a reasonable length of time. They must then submit proof they have done so to Employment and Social Development Canada, which assesses the impact hiring that worker would have on the Canadian labour market. A positive labour market opinion, or LMO, is required for most foreign workers before Citizenship and Immigration Canada will issue a visa.

    The International Experience class is exempt from that requirement because it involves quotas based on reciprocal agreements with other countries.
  3.  We heard about a report by the C.D. Howe Institute that
    is harshly critical of the federal government’s controversial temporary foreign workers program, saying it has spurred a higher unemployment rate in western Canada.

    The study says changes to the program made between 2002 and 2013 made it easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers and consequently contributed to a hike in the joblessness rate in Alberta and B.C.
  4. We learned that the Canadian government is changing the Expression of Interest program in a way similar to the changes they made to the Temporary Foreign Worker program. The updated program is called Express Entry and will offer "express entry" to qualified immigrants starting in 2015 as a way to help fill open jobs for which there are no available Canadian workers. This program, like the Job Grant Program, will allow employers to set policy.
    Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says the program will allow "a swifter path to Canada that will select immigrants based on the skills and attributes that Canada needs based on those identified by government but also by employers" (emphasis mine).
  5. We learned that Statistics Canada collected data about skills and work that could not be analyzed or reported because of a funding shortage leaving some, us among them, to wonder what information the government can contribute when setting criteria for programs that fast track workers to skills deprived regions and sectors.
    A survey of 25,000 employers that cost $4.6-million and was commissioned by the federal government could shed light on the extent of the country's skills gap, but it has sat idle for two years due to lack of funding to make it public.

    In 2011, Employment and Social Development Canada – then known as HRSDC – contracted Statistics Canada to do a new survey of 25,000 employers on topics such as workplace demographics and future skills shortages. Firms were asked about whether they used temporary foreign workers, hired for any "green jobs," and which positions were toughest to fill and why.
    Statscan collected the surveys over the first three months of 2012, but the funding ended there, before the data could be analyzed. Business and education experts have been eager to see the results, but even as Employment Minister Jason Kenney has been giving speeches saying "we must do a much better job" collecting detailed labour market information to help steer Canada's economy in a better direction, budget resources to do so have shrunk.
    Which brings to mind the story from March about how the government of Canada  is reduced to using data from Kijiji to develop its job report because it is no longer collecting data of its own.
    “Kijiji’s a great place to sell a bike, but this is no way to run an economy,” said NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen after Question Period. 
    The reaction followed a Globe and Mail report that revealed a key factor as to why job-vacancy data released by Finance Canada this year on budget day has been out of sync with other sources.
  6. Statistics Canada was able to report on data that shows the gap between the earnings of a college or university degree graduate and what someone with a high school diploma makes is narrowing.
    According to the data agency, high school grads are making wage gains, while the earnings of holders of a post-secondary school degree are staying flat — and in the case of young men, even decreasing.
    This mirrors data from the US that shows that a degree only made a significant difference if it was from an Ivy League school pointing to the value of network over schoolwork.
So is this important to literacy workers and learners?

I think it is if you are doing literacy work or learning in a jurisdiction like ours (Ontario) where literacy is an employment program.

Literacy/employment programs often, either implicitly or explicitly, make the promise that education leads to more work, better work and better pay. Funders request and literacy workers pledge a return on investment that includes more people working more productively - and by productively they mean compliant to workplace norms and less dependent on the social safety net.

We have known for a long time that this is a difficult promise to keep in times of shrinking economies. Literacy programmers have no control over the availability of jobs or the forces of discrimination that exclude literacy learners from the labour market.

The above list of six shows some of the government policies that are also having impacts on the availability of paid work in general and, more specifically, who gets hired to do that paid work.

How can we make rational economic choices if the data upon which we are basing those choices is unreliable?

If employers view foreign trained workers as having a better work ethic, do literacy programs respond by supporting learners to emulate this work ethic or by challenging these employers on their definition of what is ethical at work?

What is a rational choice and what is an ethical response in these times? Are these employers acting in ways that are ethical or rational? How can literacy programs support workers and learners who want to act ethically and rationally?

Somewhere on the internet people were debating about whether it is ethical to ask people living in poverty to boycott companies renown for the poor treatment of workers (see Walmart) or sourcing consumer goods from places renown for the same (see Dollarama) if these are the only places they can afford to shop.

My response is that I don't shun people who shop at these places but I do not respect their choice. This is not just an ethical response. I do not think it is a rational economic choice for poor or middle income people to shop at places that work to depress wages and lower employment standards globally. The degradation of working conditions hurts the people who shop there the most.

I am still working on the question of how to support literacy workers and learners navigate this neo-liberal game of snakes and ladders. I think we should start working on a curriculum but that is probably just me.


McDonald's accused of favouring foreign workers (CBC)

Temporary foreign workers have better work ethic, some employers believe (CBC)

Ottawa doubles number of Irish workers allowed on two-year visas (Vancouver Sun)

Temporary foreign workers program has boosted joblessness, C.D. Howe report says (Toronto Star)

The "Are You on Hillary's Hit List?" Gabfest (Slate) - the section on the missing middle class at 19:55 and what "education" gets you good pay at 35:44
Not quoted here but relevant:
Tories' budget, Statscan at odds over number of vacant jobs (Globe and Mail)

*Snakes and Ladders of 1901 provides an old-fashioned moral view. Players slide down the snakes of anger, pride, depravity and vanity while they climb the ladders of forgiveness, penitence, pity and faith.