Free courses get adults learners to cap and gown

The Cowichan Adult Learning Centre can help you. Free of charge.

Are you finding it hard to get a job with no graduation diploma? Do you see opportunities out there but lack that final piece to move forward?

The Cowichan Adult Learning Centre can help you. Free of charge.

Yes, it’s true, says David Bellis, vice-principal in charge at Adult Learning in its new digs: the MacKirdy Building beside the old Duncan Elementary School on Nagle Street in Duncan.

“If people haven’t graduated, they can come and get the courses they need from us for free. A lot of people don’t know that.”

The option is open to all B.C. residents and registration takes place all year, but all registrations must be done in person.

Even students who have graduated but who want an upgrade can take courses, but they will have to pay a fee.

“And there are a couple of courses that are still free even if you are a graduate. The [education] ministry has left open what they call Foundation courses, the very elementary courses in literacy and numeracy. But also, in digital literacy. So our very beginners computer courses are free. And there are a lot of folks who need those basics. We have people who 80, 82, 85 years old who are in our beginners computer classes,” he said.

Getting that graduation certificate need not be a grind. You can graduate by completing as few as five courses.

“It depends on your background and skill level, especially in English and Math but there are quite a few people who come in, get their five courses and they’re done,” Bellis said.

People also have the option of doing it in a self-paced way if their work schedule is unpredictable.

“They can also take scheduled classes if they prefer. However, because we’ve only got three teachers here, we can’t offer scheduled classes in everything. But Math and English, Biology, Art are common. Some years we offer courses like First Nations 12; it depends on how many requests come in,” Bellis said.

Biology 12 is a favourite.

“We have lots of students for that. The health care field is huge right now and maybe they didn’t take that course in high school or if they did they didn’t have a grade that was acceptable. If you try to get into nursing these days the competition is fierce and if you’re letter grade’s below an A, you might as well just forget it,” he said, adding that even top students may face a waiting list.

People can come in to polish their resumes at Adult Learning.

“And for VIU, Camosun and UVic, English 12 is kind of a gateway course. If you graduated from high school with a C or a C-, they won’t accept you so a lot of people are coming back to polish up their English 12.”

And then, of course, there are the Math courses that are needed in various trades.

“You only need a Math 11 to graduate but there are three different levels of that course. They range in difficulty from fairly do-able to very challenging,” he said.

If they’re interested in going that way, students can get Pre-calculus 11, which is the highest Math 11 course there is.

“We don’t offer Math 12 because people don’t need it for graduation,” Bellis said.

All the courses at Adult Learning are Grade 11 and 12 courses except for the Foundation series.

This year these include: Accounting 11, Introduction to Algebra, Art 12, Biology 11, Biology 12, Business Computer Applications 11, Business Information Management 12, Communications 11, Communications 12, Chemistry 11, Digital Media Development 11, English 11, English 12, English Upgrading 1, 2 and 3, Family Studies 12, First Nations Studies 12, Information Technology, Info Tech: A Digital Focus, Info Tech: iPad/Tablet, Law 12, Apprenticeship & Workplace Math 11, Foundations of Math 11, Pre-Calculus 11, Math Upgrading (Levels 3, 6, and 7), Planning 12, Physics 11, Human Services 12 (Psychology 12), Social Studies 11, Tourism 12, and Work Experience 12.

So there are plenty of ways to get that graduation certificate. Talk to the knowledgeable folks at the centre to determine the best selection for you.

Asked if there is help for people who need child care, Bellis said, “Growing Together is across the street. They handle two different age groups in two different buildings. The newer building, the modular, is right beside us. We work together with them to arrange day care.”

And there’s even some financial help out there.

For a young parent whose first child was born before age 20, full funding may be available to cover the costs of child care, including two nourishing meals for their children daily, First Nations Elder support, supported child development and public health care, parenting support, and more.

For a single parent who is currently receiving income assistance, full funding may also be available, according to the centre’s website.

Beginning Sept. 1, 2015, the Single Parent Employment Initiative will help single parents receiving income and disability assistance to secure sustainable employment. Check the website ( for more details and ask about it when you go in to register.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday every week, the centre is open for un-structured work.

“It is self-paced time when students can access a teacher to work on whatever courses they are trying to complete. It’s very handy, it’s time to get one-on-one help. In the evenings, there’s a teacher and a student supporter worker here,” Bellis said.

All the structured classes occur during regular school hours (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) but there is also unstructured time during the day.

“Students can come in to the building and work whenever they like. We try to be as flexible as we possibly can because that’s what adults want. We have some courses that you would truly call online but most of them are paper based. They can be done from home but we expect people to make contact with the teacher and, of course, write any tests or quizzes,” he said

There is lots more information about the Centre at study or you can call the facility at 250-746-0277.