Officials say adult education is growing in Maine, despite COVID
When Hanan Hassan got an immigration visa from her home country Iraq to the United States, she only had two weeks to muster what she could before starting a new life.
She could not get her school documents back from the Iraqi Ministry of Education in that short time, so she came to the United States without any proof that she had even gone to school, although she graduated from the Iraqi equivalent of high school. .
But in February, Hassan, a 33-year-old Glenburn resident, enrolled in an adult education program, focused on completing his high school education in Maine. She and thousands of others have chosen to give education another chance amid the pandemic for a variety of reasons.
While the impact of COVID-19 is often negative, the pandemic has forced the state’s adult education system to find new ways to break down the barriers that prevent Mainers from seeking higher education. Last year, more people enrolled in high school completion programs in Maine than in the previous three years, despite the profound impacts COVID-19 has had on education at all levels of the state.
This number, along with the increase in enrollment in workforce development courses, English courses and college preparation are all promising signals that adult education is making a comeback and in the process. important, said Gail Senese, director of adult education for the Maine Department of Education.
“We had to make these very quick pivots to e-learning and we had students who weren’t prepared for that, so we probably lost around 40% of our learners during that initial period of disruption,” she declared. “The good news is how we bounced back from last year.”
The pandemic has forced programming across the state to adapt to circumstances and even allowed some to thrive, said Rebecca Cross, director of the Penobscot County Adult Education Program shared between RSUs 22, 26 and 34.
But for the students of the programs, the flexibility produced by the pandemic has been the reason for their success.
“I do it at my own pace because I work all the time so there is no way for me to be [in class] in person, ”Hassan said. “I wanted to balance my work and my studies.
For Cross and his program – Riverside Adult Education – the pandemic led to an initial drop in enrollment, but it has started to see more young people completing their high school diplomas. More and more people are taking advantage of other learning opportunities, ranging from those already active looking for specific credentials to English learners and future substitute teachers.
Data from the Maine Department of Education confirms Cross’s observation. In the 2020-2021 school year, 35% of participants in a high school completion program were 18 or under, the highest percentage of this age group observed in the past four years, according to the data.
Part of the reason for the increase could be due to the increased flexibility younger students gained after nearly two years of learning during a pandemic, Cross said.
Traditionally, there have been three barriers to adult education – access to child care, transportation and working hours, Cross said. But once the pandemic forced everything to a screeching halt, Cross said she and others were able to get creative.
“Part of the permission to be creative during this unusual era has been really beneficial for adult education programs,” Cross said. “I certainly don’t want to sound insensitive to the struggles of COVID, but the funding that has been available, and the flexibility that is new, has been really great for many of our students.”
In the Penobscot County program, Cross built a digital library that allows students to access resources such as computers and wifi hotspots to make sure they can overcome any obstacles they could. be faced in a changing learning environment, she said.
And that library wouldn’t have been possible without the COVID-19 funds distributed by the federal government, Cross said.
Since 2019, programs across the state have been trying to get laptops into the hands of students, Senese said, but the rapid shift to virtual learning at the start of the pandemic has forced her and others. responsible for adult education, to reconsider their approach.
“It was the impetus that was really needed to review what we’re doing, the obstacles that we could have created, that could have impacted our learners,” she said.
For example, Hassan said she can access all of her work anywhere she has cell service or Wi-Fi through an online dashboard, and Riverside gave her a laptop to use. complete her work when she started the program.
Hassan doesn’t have much more time before he completes his classes and the program, but his education is unlikely to end there, she said.
“I think of nursing [school] or something like that. I already work in the medical field. I like to help people in need. It’s my passion, ”said Hassan.