15.08.2002 Feature Article

Taking Advantage of Adult Literacy Programs

Taking Advantage of Adult Literacy Programs
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Learning is a lifelong endeavor. People learn and continue to learn throughout the course of their lives. This much is accepted by our society.

(Frank Cassidy, 1987) My parents like many other rural folks of 1920s Ghana (then Gold Coast) were not fortunate to have had school education. However, they took advantage of the adult literacy program introduced in the country by the first president of Ghana. That was the popular mass education or night school as it was called. The program shaped my parents’ perspective on education. They therefore vowed to send all their children to school. A vow they lived up to. Literacy is a means to an end. It equips the individual with skills for effective participation in society. Basic of these skills are reading, writing and numeracy. Our impact on society is enhanced by our ability to disseminate information and contribute to the public discourse on politico-socio-economic issues. LEVEL OF LITERACY IN AFRICA: The literacy level in most of the countries, especially those in Africa, from which we have migrated to Canada, is very low. For example, Ghana has literacy rate of only 30 percent. Thus, about 70 percent of Ghanaians can’t read and write. The situation is even worse in some other African countries. Hence, many Africans migrate to Canada with poor literacy background. However, whilst in Canada we still have the opportunity to read and write in English and French, which are the official languages used in this country. Age, work, marriage and family responsibilities are no barriers to this golden opportunity. A story is told of Nagris Mohamed who came from East Africa to Canada nine years ago. She couldn’t speak English well and therefore hid from neighbors. Grocery shopping was torture. Her situation changed when Mohamed started attending the Jones Avenue Adult New Canadian Center. Within two years she was able to speak English almost flawlessly. ADULT LITERACY PROGRAMS IN CANADA: According to the Research Services of the Toronto Board of Education (April, 1988) illiteracy among Canadian adults is a serious problem with great social and economic costs for individuals and the community. Cost to Canadian business from errors, reduced productivity, safety problems and absenteeism directly related to illiteracy has been estimated at $4 billion plus per year. That, many concerned groups and individuals have responded to the problem with ideas, funding, programs and research. To socialize immigrants into the Canadian society, provincial governments with some federal support run programs for their adult learners. Some non-governmental and non-profit institutions such as the Frontier College have been also providing some literacy programs and services to newcomers to Canada. In Ontario, school boards are mandated to offer adult education programs. Such programs are provided either in solely adult learning centers or integrated into programs of selected high schools. The programs are run on both full-time and part-time basis to meet the convenience of adult learners. Each year, Ontario’s schools teach over 80,000 daytime students aged 21 and over. An “adult student” is defined by the Ministry of Education and Training as a student 21 years of age or older. Only 1/5 of adult students were born in Canada. The remaining were born in 133 other countries.

Adult Programs in Toronto and Hamilton School Boards: Two program options are offered. The integrated and adult. With the integration program, adolescents and adults are put together in the same class. In most cases the adults serve as positive role models for the adolescent students. This kind of program is run by some high schools. Adults are more likely to drop out than if they were registered in an adult program.

The adult program is the other of the two options. This program is solely run for adults only by adult learning centers such as adult day schools, technical schools, commercial schools or ESL (English as Second Language) schools. It provides flexibility for students to leave due to illness, care giving or travel and return the following semester to make up the work. This flexibility makes it easier for adults to return to school after stop-out for short periods of time rather than entirely drop out of the program. One could attend any of the programs to upgrade himself/herself in specific courses for the workforce and post-secondary admissions and ESL or to seek diplomas. There are also continuing education programs at the universities and colleges for adults. What I see as similar to the adult education program at the University of Ghana, Legon in Accra. MAKING NFE RELEVANT TO ADULT LITERACY IN GHANA? The interest of governments in literacy was manifest in West Africa in early 1950s. For example, after the 2nd World War mass education teams moved from place to place in the then Gold Coast (now Ghana) reaching interested learners in their communities. Later in Ghana, the Department of Social Welfare and Community Development became the main government agency for combating illiteracy and educating rural adults generally. However, it was not until 1990 that the government of Ghana vigorously embarked upon a national non-formal education program under the auspices of the NFED. Ghana’s experience could be described in the words of Coles (1980) as “the first prerequisite for non-formal education….it must have the unreserved support of government and be conceived as an indispensable arm of national development concerned with human betterment.” The Ministry of Education last month ordered the closure of all Regional and District Secretariats of the Non-Formal Education Division (NFED) of the Ministry of Education (MOE). The measure has been explained as “part of efforts at restructuring the division to make it more relevant to government’s objective of ensuring functional literacy, poverty alleviation and economic empowerment.” I believe that particular educational approaches can help to empower people and, that empowering people will contribute to a certain kind of development, which promote national growth. Non-formal education has emerged in recent years as a particularly useful tool in providing functional literacy opportunities not to only adults but also to school dropouts as well as children from populations that were previously thought to be hardest to reach with school (formal) education. Many of these functional literacy programs have been initiated in developing nations and continue to expand in localities where the “traditional” school system has failed to reach all. The implementation of the national functional literacy program in Ghana since 1990 was therefore a policy by the Ghana government to reduce the rate of illiteracy in the country and empower people for development. It is my hope that the restructuring of NFED will not lead to its demise. The program should be seen as a means to improving adult literacy in Ghana. As it is internationally accepted, “the ultimate objective of development must be to bring about a sustained improvement in the well-being of the individual and to bestow benefits on all” (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2626 of 24.10.79). Therefore, the benefits of NFE as an adult literacy program for the development of Ghana as a nation should not be overlooked in the “proposed restructuring” of the NFED.

BENEFITS Good adult education has along-term payoff for society. The economy will benefit from an educated workforce, the need for social benefits will be reduced and parents will be better able to help their children’s education and development. It increases the literacy level of the learner and equips him or her with skills for better life. Thus, the adult learner becomes an adult earner.

Joe Kingsley Eyiah, University of Toronto, Toronto-Canada

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