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Pathways to Possibilities 2023

Literacy and education are critical components of poverty reduction. Adults with gaps in foundational learning skills and knowledge, including digital literacy, are employees, parents, community members, and neighbors. These same adults are often disproportionately affected by structural and systemic barriers to accessing services and resources.

When adults have opportunities to develop the foundational learning skills needed to achieve their goals, the benefit goes beyond the individual. It builds capacity within the community, increases civic engagement, and contributes to a stronger economy.

“Life is definitely hard when you cannot afford housing, food, pay energy costs and maintain reliable internet and technology to access resources …and you cannot read well.” – Nancy Purdy, Building on the Case for Literacy in Alberta

Calgary Learns is a granting agency supporting foundational learning programming for the often overlooked adult Calgarians who have chosen to return to learning and have financial barriers. Our support is through grants, professional development and advocacy.

Our work is never done alone. In 2022-23, Calgary Learns worked with 22 service organizations who provided 39 adult foundational programs to 3,832 adult participants wanting to change their lives. Core areas of foundational programming included reading and writing, numeracy, foundational ESL/EAL, upgrading, digital literacy, and basic skills for life, learning, and work.

Collectively, these 22 organizations, our partners in the community, provided pathways for adults to develop the foundational skills they need to change their lives.

Highlights of 2023 – A Year of Growth

Since the war began in Ukraine, Calgary has welcomed over 26,464 Ukrainian evacuees. This has had a significant impact on the immigration services sector. Early in 2023, Calgary Learns recognized that the system would soon become overwhelmed without additional support.  The decision was made to provide immediate funding to support two programs that delivered 987 hours of instruction to support 145 learners. At the same time, we continued to advocate for further funding. We were fortunate to receive a one-time increase of $200,000 from the Ministry of Advanced Education which was used to fund three programs in the city for 2023-24 grant cycle.

“You need English to get a job; you need a job to get housing.” – Ukrainian Program Provider

This year we adopted a new Strategic Plan that will be our compass for our work between now and 2025. This strategic plan makes explicit our intention to better serve Indigenous adults with foundational learning needs. “Nothing about us, with us” is the basic tenet we keep at the forefront of our work.

This tenet is reflected in our granting processes that continue to be informed by Indigenous Community leaders. In 2023, we moved forward on our path:

  • Implementing our first oral final report process with the support of Elders Kerrie Moore and Patrick Daigneault.
  • Embarking on an intentional consultation process with the Indigenous Elders and Community leaders to learn more about the current foundational learning needs of the Indigenous adults, especially post-pandemic. The consultation report will be validated by participants and shared later in 2024.
  • Supporting eight Indigenous-led programs (2022-23 grant cycle) offered through Indigenous ways of learning, which covered pre-upgrading in language arts, math, employment readiness, financial wellness, and cultural programming serving 281 learners.

ReconciliACTION at Calgary Learns

“The work is ours to do” is a statement of fact often repeated at Calgary Learns. This year, staff and Board met in Circle to share and learn how our personal journeys impact our work and intention to live in good ways.

We were thrilled to feature “New Blood-A Story of Reconciliation”, a theatrical production of the history of residential schools, at our 2023 AGM. It is our hope that the impact of this truth-telling will be seen in how we live our lives, deliver our programs, and welcome each other into brave spaces.

Our work with the Indigenous Community was enabled by the generous support of The Calgary Foundation.

This year, practitioners delivered foundational learning programs and supported adult learners who stepped into learning while dealing with stressors on several levels: coping with mental health concerns; trying to learn when inadequately housed and facing food insecurity; and experiencing trauma about war in a home country.

To do their jobs well, practitioners need to have the skills, knowledge, resources and tools to respond to the increasingly complex learning needs of the adults who access their programs.

A broad offering of topics included sessions ranging from understanding learning disabilities to digital skills to trauma-informed teaching and learning practices. Practitioners also asked for support with increasing their understanding of history, reconciliation, and practices to support Indigenous adults on their learning journey.

“I loved the materials we were provided. I found it equally useful to have time to discuss issues pertinent to our practice. The part about ADHD in adults was one big ‘AHA’ moment for me.” – Participant in the “L.I.F.E.” (Learning is for Everyone) series

“The digital problem-solving gap and increasing numbers of Canadians with low literacy are serious concerns as more services, jobs, and learning opportunities are provided online.” – The State of Literacy in Canada

Digital skills are no longer optional; they are a critical part of the new learning landscape. Finding the best way to offer relevant digital skills programs was strongly connected to our collaborative work with our community.

In 2023, Calgary Learns supported:

  • Six foundational digital literacy programs in 2022-23, some offered in multiple languages
  • Professional development opportunities to increase practitioner knowledge about embedding digital skills into all foundational learning programming
  • After a few years of advocacy by Calgary Learns and the City of Calgary’s Digital Equity Advisory, we were pleased this past year when Rogers Connected for Success made their high-speed, low-cost Internet access available through the City of Calgary’s Fair Entry program.

“When I first landed in Canada, I had trouble finding information and services by myself as I did not know how to do this or where to look. I relied on my friends who were better with technology. I am happy that I can now figure things out myself. I believe I will get better with time since I now know the basics.” – Adult Learner in 2022-23 program

“[I valued] the dialogue with other educators – seeing common struggles and hearing about approaches that work with specific learner groups. The facilitation was excellent – Monica Leong was able to crystallize key themes that came up, and adeptly kept the participants engaged, curious and eager to share.” – Participant in the “Embedding Digital Skills Learning in Programming” series

Finding the right learning program can be challenging in a large city. Knowledgeable connections between agencies are essential to support adults seeking to address their challenges and meet their goals.

This year, to help support navigation, Calgary Learns mapped learner routes into and out of learning programs. We were amazed by the many intersectoral linkages that already exist and the opportunities for more targeted information sharing. As a result, we created a plain language handbook summarizing foundational learning programming for community agencies, libraries, and support workers who are helping adults navigate the next steps of their learning journeys with meaningful referrals.

“The Pathways to Adult Learning  booklets are super popular and valuable for our staff to assist our patrons with foundational learning needs.” – Supervisor, Calgary Public Library

Advocacy for Those Left Behind

Calgary Learns remains committed to support adults who have been left behind in their educational journeys. Adults participating in our grant-funded foundational level programs move on to further learning, find meaningful employment, gain the ability to self-advocate and contribute to their community. These gains not only support the growth of these individuals, it helps to support the economic, social, and cultural growth of our city.

“Canadians with low literacy skills are twice as likely to be unemployed than those with higher level literacy skills. Approximately 45% of Canadians in precarious or “no contract” work have not attained an educational credential beyond a high-school diploma and struggle with job security.” – The State of Literacy in Canada

Calgary Learns is supported by the Alberta Government through the Community Adult Learning Program (CALP).

View our 2023 Audited Financials and list of 2023-24 Partners and their Funded Programs