What’s in it for me? Barriers to participation in adult learning in small communities of western Canada
This article examines educators’ and policymakers’ efforts at addressing barriers and supporting adult students’ access to, and success in, small communities in western Canada. Research indicates that, despite the provision of financial support and flexible and varied delivery modes, and a focus on meeting learner needs, adult learner participation rates in Canada are currently lower than those in other countries. Government policies and programmes are aimed at employability: they currently focus on trade and vocational training programmes that meet the needs of the job market. This single-minded approach of funding programmes that meet economic needs promotes the ideal that the primary purpose of education is the financial gain that comes from securing employment, or better employment, as a result of one’s studies – this as opposed to recognising the role adult education can play in fostering social justice. What is argued here is that, in order to increase participation in adult education, one does not necessarily need greater resources but rather a shift in cultural values – a shift from valuing education solely as a means to employment towards valuing it as a means of individual and community development. Greater numbers of people must see the value of adult learning and recognise the ways that it can contribute to equity and social justice in their lives and communities. This article calls for research that will delve deeply into the barriers to participation in adult education in the wider context of our society. I hope that Canadian students, educators and policymakers will create room for social justice and equity alongside their employment-focused approach to adult learning, and that nations with an emerging discourse will revisit the implications of considering adult education as being solely aimed at employability.