May 20, 2020 12:03 pm

Opinion: Adult education isn’t a priority in the FY21 budget — but it should be

Even though adults are often forgotten in the talk about education programming and funding in Philadelphia, these learning communities are robust and growing, say guest columnists Amy Ballard and Bryce Bayer.

"When we invest in adult education, we’re investing in an educated workforce, supportive families, and the future of this city," say Amy Ballard and Bryce Bayer.

(Image by kjager from Pixabay)

This guest column was written by Amy Ballard of the Helms Academy, and Bryce Bayer, who is a Philadelphia poet, artist and organizer.
The new budget for the City of Philadelphia makes one thing clear: adult education is not a priority.

To participate in society and have opportunities for the future, education is crucial. However, in the FY21 budget, the Office of Adult Education (OAE) was completely slashed. For the past 37 years, staff from this office connected learners with the diverse programs around the city, ranging from English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship, to high school equivalency and workforce development.

They offered professional development for educators and training for volunteers. OAE celebrated and prioritized adult learners and shouted the message that education, no matter your age, is a right.

This cut leaves adult education programs around the city disconnected just as we begin to imagine the post-pandemic rebuilding of our communities and workforce. It is abundantly clear that the reverberations of this pandemic will be felt most by those with the fewest resources, including our adult learners. Losing OAE is salt in the wound during an already profoundly painful time.

Education as a whole is underfunded and undervalued, and adult learners feel the brunt of that. However, even though adults are often forgotten in the rhetoric of education programming and funding in Philadelphia, these learning communities are robust and growing.

When COVID-19 suddenly removed the possibility of convening for in-person programming, barriers to learning began to emerge. Many adult learners were initially locked out from opportunities for continued learning due to the preexisting conditions of wealth disparity and the digital divide. Parents face the daily pressure to support their children’s schooling from home, often while trying to make time for their own lessons.

Despite the many challenges, students rose from the ashes. They downloaded Zoom; they joined chat groups on WhatsApp; they created an email account. They made their smartphones into portals to their classrooms, and they pushed themselves to learn computer basics they might have lacked before. Indeed, these learners showed impressive resilience in the face of an international crisis.

This begs the question, “Why do learners who have been failed by our systems have to be resilient all the time?” Resilience is an amazing strength, but that strength is too quickly abused as adult learners and the programs they attend are expected to bounce back and innovate in the face of countless obstacles, from funding to community recognition and support. Why must we constantly fight for what, as a human right, all people deserve?

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Though their resilience and ingenuity are celebrated, it is time to demand more: more funding, more recognition, and more intentionality.

Adult learners often find themselves in these programs because they were underserved in their previous schooling experiences or lacked the support at home to finish. Breaking this cycle for generations to come means putting a starting block and a paved path in front of these adult learners, not hurdles and loose stones.

When we invest in adult education, we’re investing in an educated workforce, supportive families, and the future of this city as a place for all people to learn and thrive.

Supporting education in Philadelphia goes beyond the traditional calls for pre-K and K-12; just as they are indispensable, so is adult education. If we believe that all people deserve the opportunity to learn, then we must demand that the city keeps the Office of Adult Education in the budget and commits to funding adult education into future.


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