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Ottawa refocusing literacy funding

June 2014
P.E.I. Literacy Alliance says it's at risk of folding.
The federal government says it has cut core funding to literacy groups across the country in order to focus on program funding.

Federal funding for many literacy organizations has been cut. The P.E.I. Literacy Alliance says it cannot survive without it, and Literacy Nova Scotia has mounted a campaign to have the cuts reversed.

In an email to CBC News, Pierre Nolet of the media relations office at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada wrote the government is cutting the funding to organizations to focus on programs.

"For many years, federal literacy funding through the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills was going to the same organizations to cover the costs of administration and countless research papers, instead of being used to fund projects that actually result in Canadians improving their literacy skills," wrote Nolet.

Nolet said the organizations were advised three years ago to prepare for the move from core funding to project funding. The project funding will be available to any organization in the country, he said.

Catherine O'Bryan, executive director of the P.E.I. Literacy Alliance, is uncertain what organization might come forward to offer literacy programs in the province. She told CBC News its $150,000 in core funding from Ottawa runs out at the end of June. That represents about 75 per cent of the alliance's budget, and it likely won't be able to operate without it.

"When we're gone there won't be anybody promoting literacy on the Island. And pointing out how important it is to provide programs for people with low literacy levels," said O'Bryan.

The alliance, which employs three staff members, does some fund raising and can continue to operate for another six to nine months, said O'Bryan.

She points out, however, that while its core funding essentially pays for office staff, that without those staff the programs the group administers would not be supported. The summer tutoring program is one of the projects run by the organization. O'Bryan says that program will be able to go ahead this summer, but its future is unclear.

Local groups tackle book scarcity for kids
Denver, Colorado (USA)
June 2014

Some believe there is a desert surrounding Colorado, and it has nothing to do with the rainfall.

Colorado and its surrounding states are listed as being in book desert because there simply not enough books for kids to read.

"Really, illiteracy is truly a root cause of a lot of social ills like homelessness, poverty," Amy Hoeven, business development manager for Unite for Literacy, said.

Unite for Literacy is an organization based in Colorado that is working to bring different organizations together to address the issue of not enough books for kids, especially those in low-income families and immigrant families. The idea is to create a free digital library for kids through its free digital library at The books will be narrated in 17 different languages.

"In Colorado, one in five homes speak another language besides English," Hoeven said.

The issue is a major topic of discussion at the Global Initiative America meeting which taking place in Denver this week. Unite for Literacy is calling this campaign the Picture Book Abundance CGI Commitment to Action. They believe if kids have access to at least 100 books, they have better chance at succeeding in school.
Mennonite Partners in China coordinates Language for Peace online forum

Mennonite World Review
Newton, Kan. (USA)
June 2014, by Wil LaVeist
Mennonite Mission Network

Words are powerful, which is why the Language for Peace project aims to explore how Anabaptist and other philosophies of peacemaking are incorporated into various language courses — Spanish, German, Korean, French, English — in North America and around the world.

Language for Peace recently launched the website
* to be an online community forum where language educators can explore ideas and use resources about how to incorporate an Anabaptist perspective into language instruction.

Language instructors are already incorporating faith as part of courses. The website will provide a space for conversation and sharing ideas.

The project is coordinated by Mennonite Partners in China, an agency with long experience in developing theory and practice for English-language teaching in China and in North America. One of MPC’s supporting partners is Mennonite Mission Network. Other supporting agencies are Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Eastern Mennonite Missions.

MPC director Myrrl Byler was among those who got the project up and running.

“Just as Anabaptists have been at the forefront of developing ministries focused on peacebuilding, so, too, they can offer their gifts to the broader language teaching profession,” Byler said. “Anabaptists have a unique opportunity to help create a larger vision for language education that broadens perspectives, builds understanding and encourages the development and practice of peacemaking skills.”

Byler said language educators are beginning to work through the theological and pedagogical implications of teaching English from an Anabaptist perspective. Language learning and teaching is not simply a tool for peace education. The process itself can begin to break down barriers.

Language shapes us
Cheryl Woelk, project coordinator, hopes the website will engage educators in discussions that lead to new ways of thinking about an old idea — how to incorporate peace in the classroom.

The project aims to engage participation from language educators — including linguists, active language instructors and peacemaking professionals — who identify with Anabaptism. Especially welcomed will be international workers with Mennonite agencies who serve abroad, as well as English Language Learner teachers who are active in North America.

Language is “deeply connected to who we are,” said Woelk, literacy program coordinator for the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association in Saskatoon. “How we deal with conflicts and how we deal with relationships reflects the kind of language we use in society and how we interact with people who use other languages. We’re teaching more than just grammar.”

Misuse of language can have dire consequences. In war, propaganda and epithets dehumanize and create enemies. Dehumanization makes it easier for people to commit acts of violence.

Woelk uses standard language textbooks when teaching courses. These may contain passages about global issues such as conflicts in the Middle East, which create opportunities to talk about peacemaking.







Literacy in immigrant parents is important for early childhood education

New York City (USA)

    June 2014, by Nicole Akoukou Thompson

Early childhood education is absent from the lives of the neediest, poorest and fastest-growing populations, in spite of the expansion of preschool programs meant to address the needs of children across the economic spectrum, particularly disadvantaged youths. And more than any others, children in immigrant households are the least likely to enroll their children in federal and state preschool programs, due mainly to language and literacy barriers.  

Children from immigrant households make up a quarter of all children under the age of 8. They represent half of the children in California, and more than a third of the children in Texas, New Jersey, New York and Nevada. The parents of these children tend to be low-income and poorly educated; and, as immigrants who are often new to the U.S., they don't necessarily understand how to access or navigate the programs offered.

The language used when describing programs isn't clear, and preschool programs find it difficult to reach out to parents who don't know English and lack basic literacy skills. Consequently, students and parents miss out, failing to gain access to universal preschool. Connecticut, which has a 13.5 percent immigrant population, is one of the states that is expanding its early childhood program.

Democratic leaders in the legislature presented a proposal in April for government-funded early childhood education program expansion. The plan allots $200 million over 10 years to offer "high-quality" pre-kindergarten experiences to about 50,000 3- and 4-year-olds in public schools.


Old-school values still appeal in modern world
Melbourne (AUSTRALIA)

June 2014, by Christopher Bantick,
Senior literature teacher at an independent school in Melbourne

To say something is "old school" has become a pejorative term. It implies out-of-date thinking. Yet, increasingly, parents want an "old school" education for their children. Old school is equated with being the best school.

Given that private schools are historically seen as holding the torch for old school qualities, this goes further than old boy ties and old girl pins. The facts are telling.

Almost 35 per cent of Australian school students (more than 40 per cent at high schools) are now educated in private or non-government schools, up from less than 32 per cent a decade ago and one fifth in the 1960s. Why?

Australia has 2700 private schools. While not all of them would want to call themselves supporters of old school mannerisms and views, many do – and they are increasingly appealing to parents. Those few public schools that reflect surviving old school values are highly sought after. Think uniforms, school songs, speech nights and supportive alumni.
Why old school equals best school can in part be summed up by Brian Cox and Rhodes Boyson, who noted in the game-changing schooling review Black Papers in 1975: "Schools are for schooling, not social engineering."
                                           Illustration: Jim Pavlidis

For too long, many schools have become laboratories for experimenting on children with the latest educational fads. Reflect on the damage the "whole word" reading scheme has done to sequential literacy, let alone chronological reading ability. Or think of the devotion to social media as a legitimate form of serious inquiry.

Old school values attract parents. They stand for discipline, respect for authority, academic achievement for its own sake, scholarship, goodness and common decency. Way back in John Howard's prime ministership, he was roundly condemned for having the temerity to articulate old school values. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Education Minister Christopher Pyne reflect the Howard era values. And why not? They work.

Society increasingly looks to the old school values of respect for law and those who administer it as being desirable for social cohesion. These are traditional, some would say conservative, values that are durable and preferable over the fluidity of values that are grounded in little more than an outdated counterculture philosophy of "anything goes".


Mainstay of Canada’s literacy movement topples
  Toronto, ON (CANADA)
  July 6, 2014, by Carol Goar
Literacy workers distraught as Ottawa eliminates their national database and resource centre.

A sad farewell note is all that remains of Copian.

It closed its doors quietly after 25 years at the nucleus of Canada’s community literacy network, leaving behind this online message: “We’re sorry! As a result of the withdrawal of funding from the Government of Canada we are no longer able to provide you with the information you are seeking.”

The non-profit organization, previously known as the National Adult Literacy Database, provided hundreds of grassroots groups, local libraries and new readers with access to the best the material in the field and an online training centre.

“For a brief while, Canada was the envy of the international literacy field,” said Tracey Mollins, a long-time literacy practitioner who refuses to give up. She sent a last-ditch appeal to Employment Minister Jason Kenney: “This is our university and you just closed it down. Is that what you really meant to do?”

Apparently it is. As protests bubbled up across the country, ministerial aide Alexandra Fortier made her boss’s intentions clear: “Our government is committed to ensuring that federal funding for literacy is no longer spent on administration and countless research papers, but instead is invested in projects that result in Canadians receiving the literacy skills they need to obtain jobs.”

Copian was warned, she added. “These organizations were advised three years ago to give them ample time to prepare. Canadian taxpayers will no longer fund administration of organizations, but instead fund useful literacy projects.”

Actually, taxpayers were never asked. Front-line literacy workers, who help marginalized Canadians learn to read and write, were never told their efforts were useless.

It is true that the government warned Copian and other national literacy organizations their budgets were under scrutiny. Those that didn’t fall into line were prodded with painful cutbacks; Copian’s grant was chopped by 25 per cent in 2012 and another 15 per cent in 2013.

But its final demise caught the literacy community off-guard. Its website is filling up with bewildered and beseeching comments.
Here is a sample:
  • “I was privileged to serve as a member of UNESCO’s International Literacy Prize in 2002 when the Canadian government submitted the National Adult Literacy Database (renamed Copian) as a candidate for international recognition.” wrote Tom Stichtfrom. “We decided to promote its work globally for others to utilize and emulate. I am deeply disappointed that the work of Canada’s adult educators and the legion of adults they serve will be decimated.”
  • “My one-stop shop is gone. Documents, hands-on learning material, research,” wrote Marcey Cherniak of the Selkirk adult learning program. “We rural literacy practitioners can’t just jump on the bus and check out the local university’s stacks and periodicals.”
  • “This is a huge loss to the literacy community,” wrote Michelle Majdoub of the Samaritan House training centre in Brandon. “We use Copian on a regular basis to get resources for our program. What are we to do?”
  • “Without Copian’s expertise, we would never have been able to develop effective ongoing learning solutions for remote areas of our province; trades people in remote camps in Alberta, GED (high school equivalency) students and many others,” wrote Mark Douglas of the Workplace Learning in Prince Edward Island. “Thank you Copian. You’ve helped us considerably.”

These testimonials are designed to convince Kenney to restore Copian’s funding.

The signals from Ottawa suggest that is unlikely. Kenney was quite deliberate and selective in his cuts. Organizations willing to embrace Ottawa’s agenda were spared. ABC Literacy, for example, continues to receive public funds. Essential Skills Ontario (formerly the Ontario Literacy Coalition) received about $2.5 million last year. The Social Research and Demonstration Corporation got $1.2 million.

The minister maintains Ottawa’s money was not producing satisfactory progress. Statistics from the OECD, Statistics Canada and his own department back him up. The Toronto Dominion Bank, which has championed literacy for a decade, agrees that Canada’s results are “depressing.”

That is certainly the view of pedagogues and bureaucrats and number crunchers. But they don’t measure mothers who learned to read a pill bottle, voters who learned to cast a ballot or volunteers who learned to be literacy tutors.

For Ottawa, it’s all about productivity, competitiveness and enhanced efficiency. For the people who run shoestring literacy organizations, it is about sharing knowledge and spreading hope.



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