It used to be adult students were more or less ignored. Who they were, what were

their goals were not tracked. But as lifelong learning becomes more and more necessary for the individual and for the labour market, tracking adult leaning patterns has started to take hold. As Canada is a federation of provinces, and education is a provincial responsibility, provinces are at different stages of tracking. Apparently BC has being tracking adult studentsfor over ten years now. A few years back ESL/LINC students were given a provincial student number so Ontario could track the learning patterns of newcomers in learning English. This was coupled with a central community testing service which is also an information source for all the different types of programs available. These CLARS centres are a community learning information service for adult newcomer learners. This should reduce the risk of students missing out on a program that is better for them, simply because they do not know of it.


Now the TDSB has started to profile and track adult day school students. At the recent annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Studies in Adult Education (CASAE) information from the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) 2014-2105 Adult Student Census (ASC) was presented. CASAE meets every year with the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, this year the Congress was held at Ryerson University May 27-June 2.


So what did the TDSB learn: one, there were 6,172 students registered in the five Toronto District School Board Adult Secondary Schools at the time of the ASC, the following census data came from the 4.616 adult students who completed the ASC and were linked the TDSB’s School Information Systems; two, 68% were female; three, 33% were 25 and under, 21% were between 26-30 years old, 17% were between 31-35 years old, 20% were between 36-45 years old and 9% were over 46 years old. So the majority were female and under 30. Most were newcomers, 44% had lived in Canada between 1-4 years and 18% had lived in Canada for between 5 to 9 years. They came from Western Asia 19%, South Asia 17%, Eastern Africa 10%, Eastern Asia, Central and South America and English-speaking Caribbean, each 7%. Then 59% were never married/single, separated/divorced, or widowed but 41% were married. As for parental responsibilities, 18% had one child, 17% had two children, 8% had three children, and 7% had three children. You can see how looking after a family limits time to go to school in these figures. So most were single and most students had less than three children.


The employment and income stats would indicate a motivation to go back to school to do better: 57% were unemployed, 25% employed part-time and 9% full time. It is hard to work full time and go to school too. So 77% had an annual household income of less than $30,000. Further 47% of adults students had been out of school from 0-3 years, 23% for 10 years or more and 17% for 4 to 6 years.


Their Education and Employment goals were 50% had plans to go to college, 21% to university, 15% would look for a job and 6% would pursue apprenticeship. One quarter had career goals in the field of nursing, others career fields were accounting, child care, dental, clerical, social services, technology, and trades each of these ranging between 6% and 8%. 


The presenters noted that although 50% intended to go to college, a follow up with Ontario College Application Service(OCAS) showed 10% had done so over the 2015 application cycle. They also mentioned that many of the students surveyed may not have in the position to apply to post-secondary at that moment, but will be in the future.


Having spent many years on learning information services for adults, I wondered if some of the students did go to college but in the open access part-time evening programs where no application was necessary. And did some go to Career Colleges, private colleges? As a majority of the adult day school students were from countries where private career colleges are more common and accepted, they might have chosen this option as the career colleges are quite pervasive in advertising on line and in print. Many adult learners are not aware of the rift between public colleges and private career colleges, where it is often difficult if not impossible to transfer credits from a career college to a public college. Not only do the students pay twice when they can’t transfer credits and have to repeat courses but so does the government. The government pays about 2/3 of the cost of all college programs, tuition is the other 1/3.


Further, it is difficult to track adult students using a ladder method, high school to college as youth more commonly move. Adults sit in the middle of a community of adult learning providers looking around for what they can knit their previous learning and experience to in this circle of program opportunities. In this circle would be part time, evening, open admission, college and university programs; Career Colleges; community based training programs. It might be better to track the student instead of looking in one provider’s application files (colleges) for full-time credit day program registrations, to get a picture of where adult learners move onto after leaving an adult day school. It is hard to group adult learners into categories as each one’s background and plan are quite different from one another. It is particularly so in Toronto as there are many educational providers to move on to.


You can see the full census results by going to the Adult Student Census page on the TDSB website or emailing


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Toronto, Canada