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New IRPP research recommends five ways to boost adult education in Canada

September 8, 2022 Print

Montreal — Widespread labour shortages, the transition to a net-zero emission economy and increasing use of new technologies require Canada’s workers to reskill or upskill to find new jobs or keep the ones they have. Adult education offers life-changing opportunities for Canadians to meet these challenges and improve their jobs and quality of life. But adult ed remains on the margins of education, disconnected from social policy, with its learners and teachers often stigmatized.

New research from the Institute for Research on Public Policy aims to change that. In her IRPP paper, UBC education professor Jude Walker looks at Canada’s past efforts to create a national adult education strategy and examines insights from Aotearoa New Zealand, where adult education was made mainstream through integration into the country’s education system, professionalization of its teachers and standardization of assessments. She proposes five recommendations to boost adult education in Canada:

  • Make adult education mainstream, by grouping everything related to adult education under one banner within provincial and territorial education systems and connecting it to ministries responsible for social and economic policies
  • Assess progress using multiple measures, including “soft” outcomes such as improvements in social and personal well-being, rather than just moving an individual’s skills one level up or landing a job
  • Professionalize adult educators by certifying their credentials, offering better pay and advancing public recognition of their contribution to society
  • Empower Indigenous leadership in education by partnering with Indigenous-run adult education institutions and programs
  • Build toward national coordination by improving cohesion and communication among adult education systems in provinces and territories and making better use of existing organizations to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and best practices across the country

Walker cautions, however, that New Zealand’s reforms cannot, and should not, be replicated in a vast federated nation like Canada. “The point is not to prescribe another country’s model for Canada,” she says. “Rather, the purpose is to offer some insights from New Zealand’s experience that may be useful to help light the path toward a well-functioning and coherent adult education strategy in Canada.”

Adult education and skills training play a vital role in navigating the economic and social challenges Canada faces, and in improving the well-being of individuals. “Ultimately, we need to connect adult education to social policy more broadly. Prioritizing these connections at all levels of government will help instill adult ed in the public consciousness, and ultimately bring legitimacy and funding to the field,” says Walker.


Read and download Poor Cousin No More: Lessons for Adult Education in Canada from the Past and New Zealand by Jude Walker.

Media Contact

Cléa Desjardins
Communications Director
Tel. 514-245-2139 • cdesjardins@irpp.org

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