by Maria Moriarty
Valuing Literacy: Rhetoric or Reality (2006) Nayda Veeman, Angela
Ward, Keith Walker. Edmonton: Detselig.
Valuing Literacy is based on a case study of adult learning
policy in Canada and Sweden. The aim of the research was to explore
why Canada and Sweden fared so differently in the OECD's 1994 International
Adult Literacy Survey, which found that adult literacy levels in
Scandinavia were significantly higher than those in English-speaking
countries. The study takes a critical look at whether current literacy
strategies in Canada are working and explores the political and social
underpinnings of the current strategies in Canada and Sweden. The
book includes personal stories of individuals who have returned to
school as adults and the educators who work with them, providing
an engaging look at how the complexities and challenges of public
policy play out in the lives of adult learners and practitioners.
For example, in discussing adult literacy in Canada the authors make
this thought-provoking observation:
In Canada, adult literacy is an individual rather than a community
problem and it is dealt with as a charitable cause. There is
no universal publicly funded system of adult basic education to
provide compensatory education for adults in any jurisdiction.
Instead, undereducated adults must avail themselves of a patchwork
of volunteer programs or projects offered by community-based organizations.
There is no reliable schedule of adult learning opportunities,
nor do all Canadians have access to funding for study at the basic
level. The charity nature of literacy and the name literacy itself
often a disservice—to adults who might lack self-confidence
or need special help in addressing learning needs (p. 102).
Intended for policy-makers, adult educators and researchers, Valuing
Literacy is also very accessible to the general reader and
provides a fascinating account of the contrasting results of the
democratic approach to adult learning in Sweden with the liberal
approach in Canada. You can order a copy from your local or online
Learning in Community: A Study of Learning Circles in Canada (2006) www.nald.ca/learningcircles is
the report of a collaborative study of community learning circles
in urban, rural and Aboriginal communities in Canada. The research
project developed out of discussions of lifelong learning by a group
of literacy workers in Toronto who were concerned by the increasing
focus on formal education and the emphasis on training as the accepted
and best means of social inclusion.
The project, funded by the National Literacy Secretariat and supported
through a partnership between the Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy,
the Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre and the National Indigenous
Literacy Association, looked for community learning groups in urban,
rural and Indigenous communities that could provide an alternative
vision of lifelong learning. The learning circles documented in the
study operate without relying on written language, although written
language may be used as a resource, and learning circle members maybecome
more adept at using written language through their participation
in the learning circles.
The study found that these learning circles provide unique opportunities
for supporting learning, including literacy learning, while addressing
personal and community issues. The learning circles support learning
by people who would not qualify for formal education or training
programs or would not find these programs conducive to their learning.
The primary examples of learning circles are Indigenous circles,
teaching groups in Indigenous communities and organizations that
follow the tradition of learning in a circle where everyone around
that circle is respected equally. Similar learning circles have developed
in response to the needs of non-Indigenous rural and urban communities.
Examples include a circle of Nova Scotia fisherman conducting a critical
examination of fisheries policy, a group of immigrant women in Toronto
learning about issues of cultural diversity, seniors exploring health
issues through theatre, and psychiatric survivors studying the language
of art criticism.
This exploration of learning circles provides an alternative view
to the often restrictive, narrowly focused and hierarchical formal
education programs offered to adults in Canada. And, perhaps most
importantly, it challenges us to critically examine and think more
carefully about concepts of lifelong learning.
The project documents are all downloadable at: ww.nald.ca/learningcircles/reports.htm.
What do adult literacy learners think about their own learning in
programs and how do learners measure their own progress and success?
These fundamental questions are explored in I’ve Opened
Up–Exploring Learners’ Perspectives on Progress,
the report of a study conducted in 2006 by researchers in five
Ontario community-based literacy programs—Parkdale Project
Read, Literacy for East Toronto, Regent Park Learning Centre (all
in Toronto), Action Read Community Literacy Centre in Guelph and
Wellington County Learning Centre in Arthur.
In the study, 56 adult literacy learners reflected on and described
the progress they had made in developing self-confidence, in finding
voice, in opening up to learning, in taking risks and new challenges
and much more. Learners also described their sense of personal transformation
and the benefits they see in their lives as a result of their participation
in a literacy program. As part of the study, the research group created
a Tool for Documenting Learners’ Perspectives (beginning on
page 34), an invaluable aid for practitioners to chart progress from
the perspective of adult literacy learners. I’ve Opened
Up provides a unique view of the difficult to measure but critically
important and complex transformations that adult literacy learners
know are important as they move forward in learning and life.
An additional feature of this project is Measuring Non-Academic
Outcomes in Adult Literacy Programs: A Literature Review that
provides a fascinating overview of the work that has been done
to look at the complexities, and often unexpected gains and benefits,
of adult literacy learning. The project documents are all downloadable
Fostering Partnership Development: An Historical
Look at the National Literacy Secretariat Business and Labour Partnership
is an interpretive and comprehensive case study to document the HRSDC/NLS
Business and Labour Partnership in Canada. As one participant in
this study noted, “Canada was the envy of the industrialized
world for its creation and innovation around workplace literacy in
the 1990s” (p. 5). Through a series of face-to-face interviews
and a review of archival records, documents and field notes, the
study examines and charts the process of partnership development
and the strategies used to engage business, labour, literacy practitioners
and provincial and territorial governments in work-related literacy.
The study examines the key stakeholders’ perspectives on:
• the major accomplishments of the program and the impacts
on workplace literacy practices over time;
• the factors of a successful partnership within the program;
• the dynamics of the program;
• the proposal and project-support experiences within the program;
• the factors of an unsuccessful partnership.
The study also discusses the implications of recent policy and administrative
“During the period of program change, the policy objective
of achieving literacy gains in the workplace became secondary
to the preoccupation with accountability (p. 13).”
This is a timely publication, capturing the important contributions
and accomplishment of the National Literacy Secretariat Business
and Labour Partnership Program in fostering workplace learning. It
reminds us how much stands to be lost in the current policy climate.
This study deserves to be widely read so that the accumulated knowledge
and experience can somehow be preserved. Perhaps its findings could
lead Canada to once again provide workplace learning opportunities
that the rest of the industrialized world would envy.
The project documents are all downloadable at: www.partnershipsinlearning.ca/index.html
Integrating Equity, Addressing Barriers
Innovative Learning Practices by Unions (2007),
was developed by the Labour Education Centre with the Centre for
the Study of Education and Work, and commissioned by the Canadian
Council on Learning’s Work and Learning Knowledge Centre, a
consortium of more than 150 organizations led by the Canadian Labour
Congress and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
This report describes the amazing range of learning supported by
unions in Canada that are little known, perhaps, outside the labour
movement. It describes 35 innovative and diverse education- and learning-based
initiatives that labour unions across the country have supported
or sponsored, including literacy, workplace skills, apprenticeship,
anti-discrimination and labour education. Unions have fostered these
initiatives to address the systemic barriers workers have faced,
in the workplace and in accessing learning opportunities in general.
These barriers include lack of time, prohibitive costs, class, age,
gender, sexual orientation, race and cultural background, employment
status and educational background.
The full report is downloadable at: www.cclcca.ca/CCL/AboutCCL/KnowledgeCentres/WorkandLearning/index.htm
Fancy Footwork—Adult Educators
thinking on their feet Eds.
D. Bradshaw, B. Campbell, A. Clemans Melbourne,
“When stories become the start of the educational
journey, rather than its destination they provoke powerful and fresh
Fancy Footwork is a book of stories written by a group
of women, all of whom have worked or are working in adult literacy
and adult education in Australia. They met regularly, in each others
homes, over a period of 18 months, to talk, to share their stories,
questions and reflections about their work, and between meetings
they wrote to each other. This group of women did what many of us
say we wish we had the time to do: they made space and time to come
together. The result is a rich and many-textured mosaic of experiences,
emotions, reflections and questions about learning and teaching and
As I started to write a description of the book I used my tried
and true system. As I read I made a list of the topics I planned
to highlight. But in this case my system broke down, as my list got
longer and longer. I realized that there are just too many wonderful
stories here and I didn’t want to leave anything out! Just
to give you a sense of how rich this book is, here is a small sample
of the items on my list: a thought-provoking reflection on adult
education instructors as “subversive nomads”; how a lost
earring opened up a rich vein of reflection on learning and knowing;
how one instructor used scarves to make a computer lab—where
she was asked to present a workshop—welcoming and beautiful
(go to http://michalk.id.au/ala/change/ to
see a multimedia record of result). And there’s more, much
Here’s how one member of the group described the experience:
In the beginning we met with a piece of writing and something
for show and tell as a way of introducing ourselves. Now I’m writing
this, it occurs to me that we’re continually introducing ourselves
to each other, but also we’re introducing ourselves
to our own selves, as in ‘I didn’t know what I thought
until I saw it written down, or heard myself speak’ (p.
The book is for sale on the website of VALBEC, the Victoria Literacy
and Basic Education Council: www.valbec.org.au.
So, buy it, read it, pass it along—let’s be inspired
and inspiring, let’s tell our own stories. Maybe this is the
first of many gathering of the “subversive
Niks, M., D. Allen, P. Davies, D. McRae and K. Nonesuch (2003). Dancing
in the Dark: How do Adults with Little Formal Education Learn? How
do Literacy Practitioners do Collaborative Research? Nanaimo: