Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

Questions and Answers on Adult Education

Edited by Daniel Schugurensky

This site includes questions and answers on Adult Education that were written by students in the course 'Outline of Adult Education' at OISE/UT. The questions are first raised in class by the students themselves. Then they organize in teams in order to research and answer them. New entries are added regularly. This website is intended to provide information about the field to new students and to those who have a general interest in Adult Education. Anyone is welcome to submit a question and/or answer.


What were the main changes in adult education funding during the 1990s in Ontario, and how did they affect learners?

By Tekla Hendrickson and Chris O’Connor (OISE/UT)


Adult Education encompasses all educational processes engaged in by adults which supplement or replace initial education (Statistics Canada, 2000). It is well documented in the literature (Hamburg Declaration, 1997, International Conference on Higher Education, 1997, the Task Force on Adult Education Report, 2002), that lifelong learning has tremendous benefits for society and the individual adult learner. Some of the benefits include development of personal autonomy, social cohesion, enhanced productivity, labour efficiency and improved quality of life. 

Funding sources

According to Timmermann (1995), financing is a key element in realizing a lifelong learning strategy. The primary source of funding for Adult Education in Ontario is the government (federal and provincial), whose funds are directed toward educational institutions. Adult students also secure funding for courses and programs outside the traditional education system through employer-sponsored programs, non-profit organizations, equipment suppliers, and self-financing. 

The majority of basic adult education funding in Canada is through provincial governments. Since adult education is provincially governed, the implementation and accessibility of these programs varies from province to province. In Ontario, Adult Basic Education is delivered by a mix of public and private sector, both not-for profit and for-profit, whose services frequently overlap. 

Despite the identified need and benefits, Adult Education is in crisis due to a decline in funding. During the 1990s, both under the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party, funding for Adult Education declined. The New Democratic Party reduced funding through "the social contract" and the Progressive Conservative Party through Bills 34 and 160. In addition to reducing funds, the new legislation removed Adult Education from the public education mandate. Regardless of the political party, governments are spending less money in adult education. Lack of government support, along with the inadequacies of alternate financial support had, and continues to have, a negative impact on adult learners in Ontario.

An overview of funding and cutbacks 

In Ontario, the provincial New Democratic Party lost the 1995 election to the Progressive Conservative party and at that time $60 million dollars was cut from Adult Education programs. In June of 1996 when Bill 34 and Bill 160 were introduced, 70% of adult education courses were cancelled overnight, a reduction of 66%. For example, Toronto funding for adult day school programs dropped from $7 000 per student to $2 257 per student (Issues in Ontario Education, OSSTF). Additionally, the funding that Education Boards received was granted through a permissive mandate. This meant that the targeted funding to deliver programs would not be guaranteed. As a result, many Ontario Education Boards opted out of providing adult education all together. 

These policies clearly affect adult education programs. The Ministry of Education provides funding for Adult Day school credit programs, which are funded at the rate of $2,294 per full time equivalent (FTE) student. An accommodation grant of $520 per FTE is also provided in order to offset cost of facilities, maintenance, and care taking. However, this funding is disproportionately low compared to that provided for adolescent daytime credit programs. Whereas an adult student is funded for approximately $2.40 per hour of instruction, an adolescent student is funded for approximately $9.10 per hour (Sue Nielsen, Executive Director TASA, Oct. 1, 2002). With respect to Adult Night School credit and Adult ESL non-credit programs, the only funding received is $2,294 per FTE. These programs do not receive funding for accommodation, facilities, maintenance or care taking (Sue Nielsen, Executive Director TASA, Oct. 1, 2002).

Other sources of funding for adult learners

While educational institutions are primary providers of adult education, employers play a critical role in education and training, providing job-related courses and apprenticeship programs. According to Statistics Canada (2001), Adult Education programs and training outside the educational institution are primarily funded through employers and self-financing. The 1997 Adult Education and Training Survey showed more than 60% of all course participants received financial support from employers in the form of fees and tuition, materials and/or paid time-off for training. Twenty-nine percent of participants contributed self-funding for courses and 63% of adult participants contributed self-funding for longer program studies.

Community programs and non-profit organizations offer a variety of learning opportunities and personal interest courses. Personal interest and seniors' programs do not receive funding from the Ministry; therefore, if the programs are not subsidized by non-profit organizations, the costs are recovered through a fee structure (Task Force on Adult Education, 2000).

Impacts of reduced funding on Adult Education 

There is a concern, raised by recent studies, that adult education and training is now inadvertently working to increase inequality because it mostly serves to hone the skills of those with the most previous education and skills (Hoddinott, 1998, CMEC, 1997). Reduced government spending on adult education programs has exacerbated this inequality. Reduced government funding, coupled with availability of employer financial support, the need for self-funding and the inability to subsidize personal interest programs have significant implications on the adult education system. 

Funding availability impacts the number of adult students, the number of adults who can access funds, the breadth and availability of courses, the quality of the teachers and the support programs that enable adults to take courses.

As a result of the adult programs being cut due to budget constraints, there was a corresponding and significant decline in enrollment over the past decade. From 1994 to 1999 enrollment decreased from 31,873 students to 9,162, which equates to a 71% decline over 5 years (Issues of Ontario Education, OSSTF). This decline in enrollment can be attributed to a combination of reduced access and availability to programs. 

In direct relation to our initial question, we found that universal access to adult education programs has been severely limited by the change in funding in the 1990s. Adult education has been restructured by the changing economy, the job market and government policy (CMEC, 1997). Although there is a demand for increasing skill sets, adult workers find it challenging to access necessary courses. In addition, nearly twice as many Torontonians (16% or 600,000 people) wanted adult education courses that they were unable to get (Statistics Canada, 2001). The percentage is higher in Toronto than elsewhere in Ontario, but the issue is still province wide. Budget cuts in the workplace and a tightening of eligibility criteria have reduced accessibility to education and training for many adults in the workplace (CMEC, 1997). AETS estimates that during 1997 nearly 9% of the adult population of Toronto (over 300,000 people) required job related courses but were unable to access them. 

Adult participation in education and training is heavily dependent on one's relationship to the labour market (CMEC, 1997). Even if people are able to access adult education through funding from their employers, there are further barriers to lifelong training and education, which in large part depend on the size of the firm. According to Statistics Canada (2001), the odds of receiving employer-sponsored education and training for workers in medium and large firms were twice that of workers in small firms. For those adults who are not employed, access to adult education is even more difficult. This continues the cycle of poverty, as without further training, employment opportunities are difficult to find.

Personal cost of financing education and access to financial support are further barriers to lifelong learning. Many adults are unable to take courses because the cost is prohibitive. According to Statistics Canada (2001), high cost was reported as a major barrier to Adult Education by 40% of those who wanted to take a course but did not. Adult learners often rely on subsidized funding government grants, loans and employer sponsorship for education and training; however, access to funding is not universal where everyone has equal access and opportunity. Being an autonomous learner is challenging when the fragmentation of educational finance means different rules apply for eligibility, level of support, and terms and conditions under which grants or loans are awarded and repaid.

Adult learners often have to meet strict eligibility requirements to access financial support, as is the case for ESL programs. An adult students' status, whether they are an immigrant or a refugee, has implications for the availability of funding. Adult education plays a very important role for the immigrant population, facilitating exposure to Canadian culture and norms, and assisting in integration into the workforce (Report of the Task Force on Adult Education, February 26, 2002). Reduction in funding, which reduced the number of classes available, and the stringent criteria for financial assistance, has enormous negative impacts on this population.

The type of funding that adults have access to impacts the type of program they are likely to enroll in. For example, during the nineties adults participated in education and training more for job-related reasons than for personal interest: in 1997, twenty-four percent of those enrolled in adult education programs were enrolled in job-related activities, while only ten percent were enrolled in personal interest courses (Statistics Canada, 2001). In other words, those adult students who are able to self-finance are more likely to enroll in personal interest courses and longer programs of study. 

This impact calls into question the idea of adult education being filled with autonomous learners. If an adult can't even choose the course of study, or if their choice is so severely limited by resources, how autonomous are they? When an adult learner is not providing self-funding for courses, they lose autonomy in choosing courses. What courses they take, and how and when they learn is dictated by either the government (through availability or eligibility criteria) or through the employer (who might dictate which courses would be most advantageous for this "worker" based on the employer's needs, which may not be the same as the worker's needs).

Also, funding availability implicitly restricts funding across gender. Women have less access to employer-sponsored education because they are more apt to be either part-time or contract workers and/or are working for smaller firms without any additional benefits. In addition, women received less employer support for their education and consequently had to rely more on self-financing than men (Statistics Canada, 2001). Moreover, women are less supported in upward mobility in the workforce.

According to "Universities and Adult Learning", a series of 29 booklets published by UNESCO after the CONFITEA V conference, held in Hamburg in 1997: 

"Many of the learners are playing catalytic roles in their communities and places of work. It is therefore very important that they should have access to training opportunities which take into account their daily lived experiences and their economic social and personal needs…Teaching and learning strategies must be as holistic and accessible as possible and be rooted in the daily reality of individual learners." 

The impact of reduced funding in Ontario during the nineties makes this objective very difficult to reach. Opportunities for adult learners are dictated by learners' access to funding and by the availability of courses that receive funding. In addition, programs do not have the ability to provide holistic courses grounded in the daily reality of individual learners, because they are stretched for personnel, and because programs must be tailored to fulfill the funding requirements. During the nineties, program planning was driven more by market forces and less by the needs of adult learners.

Reduced funding has critical implications in terms of the quality of teaching in Adult Education Programs. When funding is reduced it is much harder to provide high quality teaching. As salaries are eroded, the best instructors move on and research is inadequately funded (Education International June, 1998, Sue Nielsen, Executive Director TASA, Oct. 1, 2002). Additional shortcomings in the quality of Adult Educational services include inadequate funding for learning resources, and inadequate facilities (Hoddinott, 1998).

Reduction in support programs such as child care is another negative impact of the diminished funding for Adult Education. According to A Report on Adult Education and Training - Learning a Living (May, 2001), women reported family responsibilities and child care as impediments to education. Social policy research indicates that there is a growing need for the provision of, and adequate subsidization of, child care in order to support access to Adult Basic Education (Hoddinott, 1998). However, in Ontario, day care provision in public education institutions and subsidization of child care declined as operating budgets were cut (Hoddinott, 1998). This declining number of child care spaces, and reduced cost recovery, has seriously impeded access to education and training programs for adults with dependents (Hoddinott, 1998).

Thoughts for the future

Funding is one of the main barriers to quality lifelong learning opportunities that are universally accessible. This is recognized by the Government of Canada through its adoption of the 1997 Hamburg Declaration and Agenda for the Future (International Adult Learner's Week website). The adoption of the Declaration and the Agenda for the Future by Canada, committed Canada to

closely follow up the implementation of this Declaration and the Agenda for the Future, clearly distinguishing their respective responsibilities and complementing and co-operating with one another. We are determined to ensure that lifelong learning will become a more significant reality in the early twenty-first century. … (Hamburg Declaration, 1997, Article 26)

The Declaration and the Agenda for the Future began to address the issues of the barriers to lifelong learning through the theme The Economics of Adult Learning. The declaration pushes this discussion further and offers some solutions by stating:

Theme 9: The economics of adult learning

A history of inadequate financing, growing recognition of the long-term benefits of investing in adult learning, the diversification of financial patterns and the number of contributors, the role of multilateral organizations, the impact of structural adjustment programmes and the commercialization of adult learning provision are some of the crucial aspects of the economics of adult learning. The costs of adult learning must be seen in relationship to the benefits that derive from reinforcing the competence of adults. Methods used in cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses should reflect the multiple impact of adult learning on society. The education of adults contributes to their self-reliance and personal autonomy, to the exercise of basic rights and to increased productivity and labour efficiency. It is also positively translated into higher levels of education and well-being of future generations. Adult education, being a human development and productive investment, should be protected from the constraints of structural adjustment. 

Canada, as a member state who adopted the Agenda, commit ourselves to improving the financing of adult education: 

(a) by contributing to the funding of adult education by bilateral and multilateral financial institutions within the framework of partnerships between the various ministries and other governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, the community and the learners; 
(b) by seeking to invest, as proposed by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, at least 6 per cent of Member States' gross national product (GNP) in education and by allocating an equitable share of the education budget to adult education; 
(c) by proposing that each development sector (e.g. agriculture, health, the environment) assign a share of its budget to adult learning, that every development programme in agriculture, health and the environment include an adult learning component and that the cost of adult education and training in every enterprise be considered as an investment in productivity; 
(d) by investing an equitable share of resources in women's education to ensure their full participation in all fields of learning and knowledge; 
(e) by promoting the ratification and application of the International Labour Organization Convention 140 (1974) concerning paid educational leave; 
(f) by stimulating the social partners to engage in adult education in enterprises, funded for example by allocating a proportion of their total budget to this end; 
(g) by supporting adult education through a variety of creative community initiatives which will draw on the strengths and capacities of all members of society; 
(h) by exploring the conversion, on the basis of debt swap proposals, of the current debts of the least developed and developing countries into investment in human development; 
(i) by studying the proposal for an 'Entitlement to Lifelong Learning' as suggested in Learning: The Treasure Within.

Many of the commitments made by Canada in Hamburg are not being acted upon. There are many inadequacies in the primary sources of funding for Adult Education Programs in Ontario. Negative outcomes with respect to the breadth and availability of programs, quality of teaching, accessibility to financial support, and universal accessibility of training and education in the workplace can be attributed to inadequate funding. These issues must be addressed to ensure a high quality Adult Education System in Ontario. 

The following poem, written by an adult learner and published in the book "something to think about - please think about this": Report on a National Study of Access to Adult Basic Education Programs and Services in Canada (Hoddinott 1998), reminds us of the great need for adult education programs in our society:

something to think about - please think about this

 For whatever reason
(be it poverty or ignorance)
people were held back from going to, continuing in, or finishing school.
Here are a few examples and/or reasons:
A parent dies or becomes very sick;
the child has to go to work or stay home to look after or support the family.
It's not their fault; it still happens.
Negative messages from mother or father or anyone - 
thinks work is better for the child,
don't need an education, won't get far anyway.
Still happens.
Get and/or got family keeps wife/girlfriend down, 
out of school, stuck.
Still happens.
Drugs, alcohol, bad decisions.
Still happens.
Violence in the home,
isolation, being denied information about people, places, things.
Still happens.
My point is, sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control,
and opportunities haven't always been there,
and or all of the above,
it only makes sense that bad decisions are made.
Even today many teenagers leave home, get kicked out,
or have to go to work, leaving school behind.
And sometimes they just think they don't need to finish school 
to get a job
only to find out that that's not true.


Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. 1997. Survey of Trends in Adult Education and Training in Canada. Oct 2002. Online < www.cmec.ca/international/adulted-en.stm>

Education International. International Conference on Higher Education Rapport. June 1998. Online< http://www.ei-ie.org/educ/english/hied/eedhiedreport97.html>

Hoddinott, Susan. 1998. Something to Think About - Please Think About This: A Report on National Study of Access to Adult Basic Education Programs and Services in Canada. Ottawa. Ottawa Board of Education.

International Adult Learners' Week. Online <http://www.adultlearning.unesco.ca/historique.php>

Nielsen, Sue, Executive Director, TASA, lecture OISE, October 1, 2002.

OSSTF Issues - Budget Cuts end Adult and Special Education Opportunities Issues in Ontario Education. Sept. 2002. Online<http://www.ossft.on.ca/www/issues/edfi/cuts.html>

Statistics Canada (2001). Learning a Living: A Report on Adult Education and Training in Canada. Ottawa: Statistics Canada and HRDC. 

Thomas Alan. Toronto District School Board: Report of the Task Force on Adult Education. Feb 2002. Sept. 2002. Online<http://www.tasa2000.com/taskforcereport.htm>

Timmerman, D (1995). Problems in the Financing of Recurrent Education, mimeo, OECD, Paris. 

Unesco. 1997. Confintea 97, Adult Education. The Hamburg Declaration: The Agenda for the Future. Paris: Unesco-Institute for Education.

Fall 2002

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Last updated on January 03, 2003.