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.

No comments: