Learning for a better life

Published on February 22, 2017

Li Ping Zhang recently earned her GED after taking preparatory classes with the Pictou County Continuous Learning Association.


When she answered the phone, Diane Vaughan didn’t know why her student sounded upset.

Li Ping Zhang had called the Pictou County Continuous Learning Association teacher to tell her the results of her GED exam.

“I’m crying,” said Zhang. “I call my teacher Diane and she said ‘what’s wrong?’ I passed! I was so excited.”

Zhang recently wrote her final exams to obtain her GED, after taking preparatory classes through PiCCoLA.

She said studying for the tests for the past two years was stressful. “Before, there was so much pressure. I work so hard, I want to pass.

“I’m so excited, so happy,” she said. “I feel so good.”

Zhang came to live in Pictou five years ago, with her husband returning to the area where he grew up. She was introduced to Al Horne by friends when he visited China, where she lived. They’ve now been married for 11 years. “The first time I see his face, he was so kind,” she said.

When their daughter Ali, now a Grade 4 student at Pictou Elementary, went to school, Zhang decided she wanted to improve her English so she could help with schoolwork. “I don't know English, how do I help her?”

That’s why she decided to obtain her GED.

Before that, Zhang said she mostly stayed home and wasn’t very social. “I don’t like talk, my English not good,” she said.

Another reason was because she wanted to continue learning. “I live in Canada now, it’s all English. For me, it’s life change. I want my life a little better. GED change me inside

– more you know, better you get.”

Since taking classes at PiCCoLA, Zhang has gained enough confidence to volunteer at Ali’s school with the breakfast program, and also at Pictou United Church’s Grab and Go lunch program, where she helps prepare sandwiches for Pictou Academy students once a week.

“I like to volunteer – make people happy and make me happy,” she said.

She also worked at the Subway restaurant in Pictou, and now cooks at Piper’s Landing restaurant in Lyons Brook.

Zhang has a high school diploma from China and holds a certificate in massage therapy. PiCCoLA executive director Carollynne Nemecek said now that Zhang has her GED, she will investigate how she might be able to practice as a massage therapist here in Nova Scotia.

“I like to find a job in massage or open a shop in my house,” said Zhang.

Nemecek said when English is a second language, taking the GED tests can be more difficult. “It’s quite the feat.”

Zhang said it was really hard for her, especially the social studies portion, which she failed the first time she took the test.

Vaughan said she’s very proud of her student and how hard she works, noting that Zhang would demand extra work to take home for the weekend, while working at Piper’s and also running a house. “Whatever she turns her hand at she can do.”

Zhang is continuing with PiCCoLA because she wants to refine her English skills further. “I want more practice. GED – that’s not end.”

“She takes strong responsibility for what she does – just the fact that she was so determined to get her GED, and now she’s determined to speak and write English better,” said Vaughan.

What is a GED?

The General Educational Development (GED) is an internationally recognized high school equivalency testing program.

It’s a series of five tests for individuals who don’t have a high school diploma. The tests are in math, English language arts reading, English language arts writing, science, and social studies.

Once individuals pass all five tests, they receive their GED certificate.

Writers must achieve a minimum score of 450 on each of the five tests to successfully complete the GED.

In Nova Scotia, to write the GED, a person must be a resident of the province, must be at least 19 years of age on the date of the test, must not have received a Grade 12 graduation certificate from any institution, must have been out of the public school system for at least one year.

Source: Government of Nova Scotia