"Values" statements



Secondary School
Prior learning assessment and recognition-keys for success in Ontario's Secondary School and adult education programmes

Jim Barlow


Canada over the last decade has been struggling with a transition - a transition from an industrial based economy to a knowledge based global economy. This transition has had its most devastating effect upon Canada's manufacturing heartland - Ontario. In Ontario, some businesses and corporations have permanently closed their doors, others have left or are leaving the country, others have scaled down their operations, while others are restructuring to meet global competition. Their employees have found themselves either out of work, or in danger of losing their positions in the near future. They are desperately looking for answers and solutions.

As a consequence, many of these adults see returning to school to upgrade their education and skills as the answer. Other adults see it as a means to gain a promotion, gain admission to post-secondary education or training, or as an opportunity to upgrade their high school certificate to an Ontario secondary school diploma. This has created an unprecedented demand for adult education programmer. In 1995 over 220,000 adults were enrolled in continuing education and adult secondary school credit courses.


An integral component of adult programming and the enhancement of student success is the application of Ontario's Ministry of Education's equivalent credit allowance policy. Introduced in 1974 to facilitate the return of individuals to complete their secondary schooling, it has empowered principals to grant secondary school credits for learning that has taken place outside of the high school classroom (see Appendix 1). The granting of credits is not course specific but by grade and program. Student programming incorporates meeting diploma requirements, student achievements, and a student's educational and career goals.


  • What are the principal advantages of PLAR for adult students and adult education secondary programmes?
  • What are the principal risks involved in PLAR in adult secondary school programmes?
  • What do you see as the preferred or likely future for enhancing PLAR in secondary schools in Canada?
Over the last sixteen years over 2900 adults have graduated from the Waterloo Region District School Board's adult education programmer (please refer to Appendix 2). Many have actively participated in a PLAR process to obtain equivalent credit allowances for advanced standing and thereby to graduate sooner. Moreover, some adults have effectively applied their knowledge and skills acquired through this PLAR process to obtain employment, a promotion, or to obtain advanced standing at a community college.

The responses to the above questions are based upon the surveys and conversations I have had with adults throughout this period and discussions with many of their teachers and counselors.

What are the principal advantages of PLAR for adult students and adult education secondary school programmes?


  • PLAR process models for students how to track and assess their learning and skills. It provides a process that can be used as they progress through a continuum of their lifelong learning and career changes.
  • PLAR is an interactive process that recognizes an adult's achievements and successes while enhancing positive esteem.
  • PLAR is a guiding principle that can be incorporated when developing programmer for adults while at the same time reducing the number of drop outs in the school.
  • PLAR is not only a means of identifying learning that has taken place, but also may also used by school staff as a guiding principle to identify the kinds of learning (knowledge and skills) needed for the adults to be successful in their programmes and future goals.
  • The PLAR process has been found to be an effective means of bridging institutional and dispositional barriers that confront the returning adult learner, thereby improving their chances of graduating.
What are the principal risks involved in PLAR at the Secondary School Level?

Not all adults have the same PLAR opportunities. There are clearly many variations in both philosophy and practice. There are distinct differences amongst boards of education, as to how and when an adult learner's prior experience is assessed, the resources used in assessment, the acceptance of PLAR credits, and the participation of the learner in the process. 

An inherent risk to PLAR in Ontario's secondary schools is that in attempting to address inconsistencies the revised policies and procedures will build barriers rather than bridge barriers to adult education. Another significant risk PLAR faces, as in other areas of public education is that with continued budget cuts, the monies needed to implement delivery and support will be dramatically reduced, thereby marginalizing PLAR. The ultimate danger is that PLAR would in practice be provided only by a few school boards, or only be available to those adults who had the financial resources to access the process.

What do you see as the preferred or likely future for enhancing PLAR in secondary schools in Canada?

As the learning outcomes of secondary schools across Canada are incorporated into the continuum of learning objectives of post-secondary education and training institutions it is imperative that there be a parallel process for PLAR. Changes to the PLAR processes in the secondary school will impact upon post secondary education and the work place i.e. the assessment, recognition and the portability of PLA credits. It is critical that in the development and implementation of the PLA process and the training of staff, there be consultations with other educational sectors and the workplace, locally, provincial and nationally be established.

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