Simon Lewis graduated with his high school diploma from one of Durham District School Board’s continuing education programs (Durham Continuing Education) in 2015, at the age of 24.
His journey began in 2013 when Lewis made the trip from Trinidad to join his father in Canada. He was filled with ambitions.
“I wanted to start over fresh, get my high school diploma, go to college and study electrical engineering,” said Lewis.
Like Lewis, millions of people have used adult learning services across Canada. Both secondary and post-secondary schools commonly offer programs, courses and workshops catered to adults after they have left formal education or come to Canada from another country. These programs are often referred to as continuing education.
According to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 55 out of 72 Ontario school boards offer continuing education programs at more than 300 different school sites.
Durham Continuing Education and other continuing education programs offer adults. The chance to go back to school and upgrade their skills, to stay current on technology and industry trends, as well as the chance for immigrants to improve their reading and language skills so they are able to be successful. Continuing education offers a chance at success.
When Lewis came to Durham Continuing Education, he met with their guidance department who helped him discover where his passions lay and the paths he could explore.
“First they asked me what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. One of the guidance [counsellors] sat down with me and asked what I really liked to do most. And I said I like to do things with my hands,” says Lewis.
Durham Continuing Education works with each student to find out what their specific goal path may be.
Every 26 seconds, someone makes the decision to leave their public school in the U.S., according to Minnesota-based Carleton College. In 2009-2012, nearly 900 million students left Ontario high schools, according to Employment and Social Development Canada.
For those who make this decision, it doesn’t mean they’re out of options, according to Joanne Docherty, vice-principal of Durham Continuing Education.
“If they are over the age of 21, they are eligible as an adult student to do credit courses toward their high school diploma, to complete their high school diploma,” says Docherty. “They come in, some only need a couple more credits to graduate, others need far more than that. So, each adult learner will meet with a guidance counsellor, they will be assessed in terms of how many credits they need to earn their high school diploma. You need 30 credits to graduate.”
Durham Continuing Education offers students a chance to earn high school credits in a flexible environment. Through the Adult Credit Day School, mature students are able to earn their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) through a variety of options to suit everyone’s lifestyle, including night school, summer school and online.
“We will have some students who have been out of school 20 years and they have records from the old school systems, where you only needed 27 credits to graduate. So, we have a mature student evaluation process and we also have a prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) process,” says Docherty.
Many older students face barriers in their day-to-day life, which often lead to missed classes and diminished self-confidence. Financial obstacles, work schedule conflicts, transportation costs and child care are among the highest reported hurdles, according to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.
A 2009 report by the Canadian Council on Learning says the most common reason for taking post-secondary classes for people aged 25 to 54 was to find or change jobs.
Backtoschool.com, a website catered to giving advice to mature students looking to head back to school, says that older adults want options that quickly transition them to new opportunities, but also want prior learning assessments and accelerated program formats.
Durham Continuing Education’s PLAR process allows students to earn credits based on knowledge and skills acquired outside a traditional classroom, for both secondary and mature students. They also offer several pathway programs to prepare students for employment in nine weeks in the areas of Building & Maintenance, Hospitality, Office Assistant and Personal Support Worker (PSW).
The National Post, through an internal government document, cites that one in six immigrants speak only a non-official language and of those, 60 per cent were unable to carry a conversation in English or French. Since many are unable to adequately communicate, it cuts their job prospects significantly.
When Lewis came to Canada, he says he spoke very broken English, but after taking an English speaking course at Durham Continuing Education, his English is much clearer.
Over the past decade, Canada has permitted about 250,000 immigrants and refugees per year, according to the Ottawa Citizen.
Durham Continuing Education offers three programs which allow immigrants a chance at a life and career in Canada by providing them with courses specific to their needs.
English as a Second Language (ESL) and Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC), provides basic English training to those new to Canada. Durham Continuing Education also offers Enhanced Language Training (ELT).
“ELT is for professionals coming from foreign nations, who held a profession in their home nation but come here and just need to learn the language specific to that trade. So, if you’re a medical practitioner in Bangladesh or something, you could come here and we would help students learn the language of the profession here,” says Paul Brown, principal of Durham Continuing Education.
The demand for continuing education has increased over the past 15 years. According to Ryerson University’s Continuing Education statistics, in 2000-2001 just over 45,500 people registered for their continuing education courses and 2014-2015 saw an increase of 23,000 with nearly 68,000 registrations.
Lewis, after graduating, realized that his dreams of becoming an electrical engineer required a bit more work. He’s currently taking a chemistry course through Durham Continuing Education and will pursue a physics course next term.
Durham Continuing Education and many similar programs across Canada provide people like Lewis and others the opportunity to dream and succeed.