#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 (http://openparliament.ca/debates/2014/5/30/sadia-groguhe-1/). 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