Literacy grant draws criticism of B.C. government

Grant for community associations leaves TRUFA concerned for Adult Basic Education funding

The provincial government has given TRU $256,732 to fund community-run adult literacy programs. The announcement has drawn criticism from TRUFA, who would rather see Adult Basic Education funded instead. (Brittany Stevens/Flickr CC)

The provincial government has given TRU $256,732 to fund community-run adult literacy programs. The announcement has drawn criticism from TRUFA, who would rather see Adult Basic Education funded instead. (Brittany Stevens/Flickr CC)

A grant for community literacy programs has received criticism from the TRU faculty association, who believes that Adult Basic Education should be expanded instead.

The Ministry of Advanced Education announced on Nov. 18 that TRU will be receiving a one-time grant of $256,732 for adult literacy programs.

The funding is part of a $2.4-million package that is being distributed across the province to support adult literacy programs in 85 communities.

TRU’s role in the program is to administer the funds and allocate them to those that apply for funding. The adult literacy programs are not operated by the university, but are run by various community organizations to aid adults in improving their basic reading and math skills.

One of the programs in Kamloops applying for funding from TRU’s literacy grant fund is Street School, which also uses its literacy program to connect marginalized members of the community with support services. The grant will go towards partially funding the salary of the program’s outreach worker.

According to Peter Grinberg, coordinator of the Street School program, between 400 to 450 students are seen annually, with about 30 students graduating per year. The program is supported by both paid teachers from School District No. 73 and volunteers, who are often retired teachers.

The one-time funding based on programs that rely on volunteers has made some people skeptical, including TRU’s faculty association president Tom Friedman.

Friedman has concerns with the funding and the decision to target volunteer programs instead of expanding the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program.

“TRU used to be funded by the ministry to allow a literary coordinator for our region to assess needs, especially in smaller regional communities, and coordinate the delivery of ABE courses in such centres as Lillooet, Clearwater, Lytton and Merritt,” Friedman said in an email, adding that the funding for that position ended several years ago.

“As a result, TRU offers very few opportunities to bring much-needed ABE, especially in reading, writing and math areas, to the region’s communities.”

The president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE), the union that TRUFA is a local of, criticized the government for reducing literacy support to a “hodge-podge of literacy programs in church basements.”

“It would be far better to fund institutions for these things,” said George Davison, president of the FPSE.

Davison also criticized the government for having low engagement with faculty and student unions in regards to funding issues.

Adult Basic Education was made tuition-free in 2007. Any student looking to complete their high school diploma or to take upgrading courses in order to enter a post-secondary program had their tuition costs covered by the provincial government.

On May 1. 2015, the government made changes to ABE, making students pay tuition again, if they have already received a high school diploma and wanted to upgrade courses. Instead of the whole program being tuition-free, grants were made available to low-income students for upgrading.

Other community centres that will be receiving funding for literacy programs include the Elizabeth Fry Society, Yellowhead Community Services Society, Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy Society and the Lillooet Area Library Association.