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"If you can't read it you don't know it" - Federal cuts threaten community learning programs

by Robert Devet

Adult learners rallied in the Town of Windsor, demanding that federal funding cuts for community learning programs be halted. Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) -  Well over a hundred people from all over Nova Scotia rallied today in the Town of Windsor to draw attention to federal cuts to literacy and adult learning programs in the province.

"If you can't read it you don't know it," Mike, a student at the Dartmouth Learning Network, tells the crowd. "These organizations that are helping people like me and everyone who is here today have to stay strong. Cutting is hurting, and the hurting got to stop."

Most of the looming cuts are the result of changes in how federal funding for job training is allocated. The federal government ultimately wants to see forty per cent of that funding go towards a new employer-led program, at the expense of community learning organizations that used to receive that funding.

It is not known how severe and how soon the cuts will take effect. All this will become clear once federal-provincial negotiations have concluded. But provincial Minister of Labour and Advanced Education Kelly Regan has said that the province will not be able to replace all the funding that used to flow from Ottawa.

Bridge funding, provided to the learning centres by the province while a final provincial-federal deal is being ironed out, ends on June 1st.

"There are going to be changes, but to what extent we don't know for sure," says Peter Gillis, director of the  Valley Community Learning Association (VCLA). " How the provincial government will deal with this, whether they will fund some programs and not fund others, or whether they give everybody a blanket cut, we're in the dark."

"We still have the provincial funding that was in place before [the federal-provincial arrangement].  But it was never luxurious. We are a very fragile organization,and things could change in a hurry. We could be back in church basements," says Gillis.

Meanwhile another source of funding for the local adult learner programs has been terminated altogether. The federal government has completely pulled its funding of Literacy Nova Scotia, a non-profit that provides training and funding to local literacy programs and champions literacy at a provincial level. Five people will be out of work.

"The timing is amazing everything wil happen at the same time," Gillis tells the Halifax Media Co-op. "This will impact our teachers who take advantage of the training programs that Literacy Nova Scotia offers."

Tina Boutilier is the executive director of the Eastern Shore Musquodoboit Valley Literacy Network. Teaching literacy in rural Nova Scotia is challenging, she tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

"We cover such a vast geographical area," says Boutilier. "The cuts are really affecting us. We don't have our own building. We beg and borrow to get learning space for our learners that is free and also comfortable."

"We have lots of transportation issues in our rural area. People can't get a job without their General Educational Development (GED) certificate [highschool diploma equivalent], and they can't travel to the city to get their GED."

"We have to bridge that gap and we can't do that without the funding," says Boutilier.

Speakers at the rally argued that money spent on literacy is money well spent.

One in three Nova Scotians do not have the literacy skills needed in today's society. Meanwhile, 86 per cent of participants in federally-funded literacy programs were employed two years later.

And the focus is not just on grade 12 equivalency. The programs assist immigrants who do not speak english fluently, and helps mothers who want to read a bedtime story to their young children.

"I decided to come back to do my my GED grade 12 after having been out of school since 1976," one of the protesters tells the Halifax Media Co-op. "I have been doing the literacy program for three years now."

"I think it is appalling that the government is taking the funding from people who need an education so that they can get a better job. I came all the way from Middleton to support these people because I think it is disgusting what they are doing."

"I figure you take a single mother or a single parent who is trying to get a grade 12 so they can get a good job. How are they going to get that job if they don't have that grade 12 they need. I just don't think it is right."


See also:

Federal cuts to job training hit people with disabilities, adult learners

Two hundred jobs of people with disabilities at risk

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert



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