LAWN rues the loss of high school equivalency program

Denise Lafontaine coaches GED student Cheyenne Blair at Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing. Blair is studying to complete her GED en route to a better future, but that opportunity may be disappearing soon for other learners.

Julie Ann Bertram

Special to the Tribune

For the past several years, the Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing (LAWN) has been helping people earn their high school equivalency and improve their chances for success, but that could be coming to an end.

The General Educational Development program (GED) in Canada, which is an alternative to high school for people over 18, is in its final months since established in 1942. LAWN has been the local provider where residents of West Nipissing can study for and take the GED test. However, the program is to be cancelled across Canada by spring 2024, leaving people without this vital step toward expanded options for apprenticeships, college and university programs, or improved job security as many employers require at least a grade 12 education or equivalency like the GED.

Amy Pipe, Executive Director of LAWN, is greatly concerned about the abrupt abandonment of the GED program and the lack of educational support to replace it. “The Ministry of Education has made no statement about what’s to happen after the last testing in the spring of 2024. We’re pushing for more information, but it’s all been vague messaging.” LAWN wants to get the news out to as many locals as possible. They advise anyone who may be on the fence about completing their GED to “get it now! We offer free textbooks and calculators to help with preparing learners. There is testing in November so there’s enough time to work with us and study to take that test, and a chance to redo it in the spring if need be. After that, there’s nothing else in its place.”

TVO ILC, an arm of the Ministry of Education, is the sole agent of the Canadian version of GED testing in Ontario and has given notice that US-based testing service Pearson Vue (which marks the tests), will cease to provide that service for Canadians. Pearson Vue GED Testing Service is sending an email to all students registering for GED testing, advising that “The Canadian GED Series exam will be ending on May 3, 2024, for paper and computer testing. This means any progress made toward your GED High School Equivalency Certification must be completed by May 3 otherwise you will not be able to finish (…) and you would be at risk of losing any and all progress made toward your certification up to this point. (…) This impacts Canadian testers only.”

Pipe says this is an unacceptable statement for Canadians who are looking for further guidance. “This email is convoluted. (…) People don’t understand the ins and outs of this, the messaging is unclear across the board, it’s passing the buck.” According to a statement by TVO, “The Ministry is working with TVO regarding possible future opportunities”, but what that means is anybody’s guess as service providers like LAWN are left in the dark.

A new test called the “Canadian Adult Education Credential” has been in development for years and the transition to this may be a solution, but there has been no definitive information about it. According to Pipe, “That test is not ready yet. It was a pilot project in Alberta so there’s a possibility of replacement, but that’s going to take time and a lot of work, nothing’s written in stone. This has far-reaching consequences, and I don’t think people understand the urgency.”

Denise Lafontaine is a coach with LAWN and is disappointed about the lack of clarity surrounding the situation. “I think it’s a travesty, to be honest. I see it as ten steps backward. Our government keeps talking about opportunities for marginalized communities, and for people to upgrade their education – education is the future, without education how can someone move ahead? It’s a shame that an announcement is made through a back door kind of channel and no alternative is provided for learners. I’m going into my seventh year with LAWN, and the GED has always provided an alternative for some of our more vulnerable learners as well as a second opportunity for some of our adult learners who, for whatever reason, were not able to go through the general path of education. When you’re an adult and make the decision to return to school, there’s a purpose, whether it’s to obtain a job or to get into a trades program, for further upgrading, or for a promotion within a workplace…  There are all sorts of reasons why people come here; not having this available shuts a door on them.”

Another point is that there are homeschooled children in West Nipissing and many of them rely on GED testing to provide necessary certification. “Homeschooling has become an alternative model of education delivery, and we’ve had quite a few learners come here to get their GED equivalency. What are they supposed to do now?” Lafontaine rues, “This is an important avenue for homeschoolers.”

Hundreds of local people have had, and are having, success with the GED program through LAWN, including Cheyenne Blair, who is just finishing the math course on her way to completing the program. She appreciates the program which is helping her achieve more than she thought possible. “Even though I’m 21, I’ve been through a lot, and school wasn’t easy for me. Now that I’m an adult, I’m looking for opportunities. For me, GED is going past what I thought I could [achieve]. (…) As an adult, I feel weird, I feel I should know things already and it’s challenging. With a learning disability, I have a lot of trouble concentrating so I need someone there to reassure me that I’m doing things correctly or be there if I need help. The connection helps, the more I trust someone, the more chance I have to succeed.”

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