This page answers the most frequently asked questions about Calgary Learns funding.
Please contact Grants Coordinator Jeannie Finch (403.266.6444, ext. 2) or Indigenous Liaison Monique Fry (403.266.6444 ext.4) with your funding questions.

The Basics

  1. What is literacy?
  2. What are essential skills?
  3. What is foundational learning?
  4. What are adult learning principles?
  5. How can I find out whether my proposal idea fits Calgary Learns funding?

Categories of Foundational Learning

  1. Adult Basic Literacy
  2. Numeracy
  3. English Language Learning
  4. Basic Computer Skills
  5. Foundational Life Skills
  6. Family Literacy
  7. Family Literacy – Approved Models

Indigenous Adult Learning

  1. What is the Indigenous funding stream?
  2. How do you define Indigenous learners?
  3. What do you mean by Indigenous perspective”?
  4. What are examples of Indigenous Learning principles?

Recent Changes

  1. Why did you change your funding year to July 1 to June 30?
  2. When does Calgary Learns accept proposals now?
  3. Is it true that you now fund professional development?
  4. If our program is funded, are there any required evaluation measures we must track?

Other Questions

  1. Do you fund individuals or provide bursaries for individual learners?
  2. Must my organization become a Calgary Learns member before applying for funding?
  3. What advice does Calgary Learns have for returning applicants?
  4. What should I do if I want to submit a new proposal?
  5. What is a proposal preview meeting?
  6. Who reviews my proposal?
  7. How do I report on our grant?
  8. Who do I contact if I have more questions about Calgary Learns funding?


What is literacy?

The Alberta government report, Living Literacy: A framework for Alberta’s next generation economy, gives a good definition of literacy in its broadest scope:
“Literacy is not just about reading and writing. While reading and writing provide the necessary foundation for learning, literacy is fundamentally about an individual’s capacity to put his/her skills to work in shaping the course of his or her own life. Literacy involves ‘reading the word and the world’ in a variety of contexts. Individuals need literacy skills to obtain and use information effectively, to act as informed players and to manage interactions in a variety of contexts (ex. Making decisions about health care, parenting, managing household finances, engaging in the political process or working).”

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What are essential skills?

While the above definition gives us a description of literacy, it doesn’t break it down into specific components or skills. That’s where the Government of Canada’s Essential Skills Framework comes into play. These nine skills are like Velcro—the skills to which all other learning sticks. They are the skills we need for learning all other skills in the workplace, our communities and in life. They enable us to evolve and adapt to a changing world. Here the nine essential skills:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Numeracy
  • Oral communication
  • Working with others
  • Document use (e.g. forms, maps, tables, graphs)
  • Digital technology
  • Continuous learning (knowing how to learn)
  • Thinking skills (problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, task planning and organizing, significant use of memory and finding information)

Each of these skills can be used in many different contexts at different levels of complexity.

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What is foundational learning?

The term foundational learning refers to the nine essential skills at their lower or foundational levels of complexity. Just as the word ‘foundational’ suggests, this is where the building of skills begins. Calgary Learns supports foundational learning for adults—that is our core work.

Calgary Learns works to meet foundational adult learners wherever they appear in our changing learning landscape—parenting programs, citizenship education, computer training. We do this through our funding and through building the capacity of community educators to meet learner needs.

Foundational learning is the focus of Calgary Learns’ funding. Foundational learning refers to the acquisition of the basic skills adults require to fully participate in life: the ability to participate as neighbours and citizens, have satisfying employment, and prepare to pursue further learning.

Foundational learning is more than basic literacy. It encompasses thinking and problem-solving skills, reading and writing, numeracy, and financial literacy, basic proficiency in English as an additional language, health literacy and family literacy.

Foundational learning also includes workplace skills like technology literacy and working effectively in groups. Several frameworks inform our understanding of foundational learning: for example, the Essential Skills framework, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) levels, Canadian Language Benchmarks, and ATESL best practices.

UNESCO published a working definition of literacy which reflects the emphasis on context and use: ‘Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve his or her goals, develop his or her knowledge and potential and participate fully in community and wider society.’ (UNESCO 2005: 21).

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What are adult learning principles?

Adult learners advance in their knowledge and skills when educators innovatively incorporate adult learning principles into facilitating learning.

  • Respect – Adults bring a wealth of experience to the learning group. Regard learners as equal partners in the educational process and encourage them to freely express their opinions in class, in one-on-one sessions and at key points during the program. Learners’ feedback can be very important for revising and modifying course content and instructional strategies.
  • Life Experience – Adult learners have accumulated a wealth of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities and previous education. They connect new learning to this existing knowledge and experience base. It is important to acknowledge and respect these adult experiences and capabilities.
  • Relevancy – Adult learners want to understand the reason for learning something. Try to develop learning objectives collaboratively with individual participants at the beginning of the course, and be prepared to revise them as the course progresses. This promotes relevancy of content and instruction, and ensures accountability to the learners.
  • Goal Orientation – Clearly communicate with program participants regarding how each part of the program is designed to assist them to attain their personal goals.
  • Practicality – Adult learners are frequently motivated by the desire to achieve a specific task or acquire a skill that has a practical function in their lives. Learners are not necessarily interested in knowledge for its own sake. Be clear how the topic being taught will be useful to the learners.
  • Autonomy and Self-Direction – Adult learners need to be free to direct themselves. Encourage self-direction by actively involving learners in the learning process; for example, invite participants’ perspectives about topics to cover. Support them to work on projects that reflect their interests. In this way, participants are guided to the knowledge rather than supplied with facts.
  • Pacing – Adult learners have different learning needs and styles. Strive to understand and address these different needs (e.g. some people learn better from visual information, others from auditory instruction and through movement).
  • Self-Esteem and Confidence –Issues of low self-esteem and confidence are deeply personal and sensitive. Attend to potential learning barriers that these issues represent and act appropriately.

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How can I find out whether my proposal idea fits Calgary Learns funding?

Advice for anyone with a new proposal idea: Spend time exploring our website to learn about Calgary Learns and our funding mandate. Ensure you can explain how your proposal idea is a strategic addition to what already exists in Calgary for adults who learn at a foundational level.
Here are a few program directories that may help you see what else is available in Calgary:

We have three types of funding:

For the funding type you are interested in, study the Request for Proposals (RFP) to understand our programming areas and eligibility requirements. Be prepared to meet all requirements and answer all questions in the Application.

Before applying you must be able to answer ‘yes’ to all of the following questions:

  • Does your idea fall within one of the three programming areas:
    • Literacy and Foundational Learning (high priority)
    • Indigenous Literacy and Foundational Learning (high priority)
    • Community Capacity Building
  • Does your proposed program meet all the eligibility requirements including the following:
    • Is your organization either registered with the province as a non-profit organization or as a federally registered charity? Either one is eligible. Not-for-profit companies are only eligible if incorporated under Part 9 of the provincial Companies Act.
    • Does your organization have current liability insurance that will cover the proposed activities? If not, we cannot entertain your proposal.

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Adult Basic Literacy

Adult Basic Literacy is defined as the ability of adults to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. The primary intended outcome for programming in this area should be the development of reading, writing, and/or document use skills up to and including PIAAC level 2. Reading, writing, and document use are three of nine Essential Skills from Canada’s Essential Skills framework, defined as follows:

  • Reading includes understanding materials written in sentences or paragraphs.
  • Writing includes communicating by arranging words, numbers and symbols on paper or a computer screen.
  • Document Use includes finding, understanding or entering information (e.g. text, symbols, numbers) in various types of documents, such as tables or forms.

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Numeracy is defined as the ability to use, apply, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas. Numeracy is one of nine Essential Skills from Canada’s Essential Skills framework. To align with that framework, the primary intended outcome should be using numbers and thinking in quantitative terms to complete tasks, up to and including a pre-GED level.

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English Language Learning

English Language Learning is defined as the study and practice of the English language by individuals whose first language is other than English and who are unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English. The primary intended outcome should be to help learners gain proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English. These outcomes correlate to the following essential skills from Canada’s Essential Skills framework: reading, document use, writing, and oral communication. Calgary Learns supports the improvement of basic English proficiency from pre-Benchmark (ELL Literacy) through to Canadian Language Benchmark 4+ in four streams: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

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Basic Computer Skills

Basic Computer Skills are defined as the ability of individuals to appropriately use computers and related technology to find, evaluate, utilize, create, and communicate in order to participate effectively in society. The primary intended outcome is the development of foundational computer skills to support an individual to navigate the basics of a computer, keyboard, operating device, or the internet. This category corresponds to the essential skill now called digital skills – one of nine essential skills from Canada’s Essential Skills framework.

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Foundational Life Skills

Foundational Life Skills are defined as learning opportunities that facilitate the development of the personal and interpersonal skills required to deal with the demands and challenges of everyday life on an independent basis. These skills may include the following basic components:

  • Decision-making and problem-solving;
  • Creative thinking and critical thinking;
  • Communication and interpersonal skills;
  • Self-awareness and empathy;
  • Coping with emotions and stress;
  • Intercultural competencies.

The primary intended outcome of learning opportunities in Foundational Life Skills is to improve any combination of the above skills to prepare a learner for further learning, employment, and/or participation in society.

Learners is Foundational Life Skills programs may:

  • Be unable to engage in learning opportunities without first improving their foundational life skills.
  • Face barriers that could impede their learning. For example, they may:
    • Be marginalized in society;
    • Have experienced trauma, such as violence or abuse
    • Have had encounters with the justice system
    • Have addictions issues
    • Be unable to manage a social context effectively
    • Be unable to accomplish basic daily tasks
  • Be either Canadian-born or newcomers to Canada
  • Not recognize or admit the need to improve their skills
  • Have limited or no formal education
  • Associate learning with trauma and/or frustration and may have a fear of failure

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Family Literacy

Family literacy programs promote the value and benefits of literacy, as well as oral language skill development. These programs also provide parents with the skills and strategies to create a literacy-rich environment in the home and use daily activities to strengthen the emergent literacy skills of their children.

While adults may enter family literacy programs to become more confident in their role as a child’s first teacher, these programs also create opportunities for adults to increase their confidence to return to learning and find out about other learning opportunities available in the community. Organizations delivering family literacy programs must be well-connected in their communities to make knowledgeable referrals to other local providers to support adults to transition to further learning, employment or other learning goals.

Family Literacy Learners
Supporting Families Facing Barriers
While it is acknowledged that all families can benefit from family literacy programs, grant funds must be used to support learning opportunities and increase access for families facing social and economic barriers to learning, including costs for all program fees, and costs for child care, transportation, or other participant supports as required.

Adult Family Literacy Learners
Family Literacy programs are directed towards the parents of children up to six years of age. Children may be present for all or part of the program, or they may not be directly involved at all.

Based on Foundational Models
Eligible programs must be based on one or more of these approved foundational family literacy models. Funded organizations are encouraged to create a program that will best attract and meet the needs of participants in their communities.

Coaching and Modeling
Family Literacy programs must focus on actively coaching and modeling strategies and activities to parents to support the oral language and early literacy development of their children. Programs cannot be designed around the purchase and passive distribution of children’s books or resources and materials.

Expectations for the Provision of Childcare
Where programs are providing childcare on-site during parent programs, it is expected that age and stage appropriate programming with an oral language and early literacy development focus will be provided for the children in a child-safe and child-appropriate environment.

Additional Professional Development Requirements
Family Literacy Models
All staff responsible for the administration and delivery of Family Literacy programs must have completed, prior to the start of the program, training in the foundational model on which the program is based. If more than one program is delivered, or the program is based on more than one model, training for all relevant models must be taken.

Foundations in Family Literacy College Certificate
Calgary Learns recommends that at least one staff member responsible for the coordination of family literacy within the organization, who has been in the position for more than one year, participates in and/or completes the Certificate in Family Literacy course (Foundations in Family Literacy) available on-line through Conestoga College. It is not necessary for all family literacy facilitators to have completed this training; however, having at least one staff member familiar with this training would benefit learners and would contribute towards the effective delivery of family literacy programming.

Funded organizations are also encouraged to have at least one staff member present during program delivery with a valid First Aid, Childcare First Aid or Emergency First Aid Certificate.

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Family Literacy – Approved Models

Eligible programs must be based on one or more of the following foundational family literacy models. These models are recognized as best practices in the field. Funded organizations are encouraged to create a program that will best attract and meet the needs of participants in their communities.


  • This program encourages parents to discover the joy of reading with their babies beginning at birth.
  • Families receive a bag with a number of books suitable for babies, a teddy bear or other toy, and easy-to-read information on other available programs and services.
  • Some programs include a series of workshops for parents where book-sharing ideas are modeled, and parents are given guidance on choosing appropriate books for their baby. Parents may also be introduced to their local library and other available resources.


  • A facilitator works with a group of parents for eight weeks, modeling book-sharing and strategies for supporting their child’s literacy development. Children generally do not attend this program.
  • Ideas and themes in children’s books are discussed and extended by craft and drama activities. Parents borrow the books to share at home with their preschool children.
  • Parents also engage in informal writing, often writing a story for their children during the program.


  • Through this home visitation program, trained literacy facilitators called “builders” work with families in their homes for at least 20 half-hour sessions.
  • The builders work with parents and children, providing strategies, ideas, and knowledge on how to use everyday activities to promote literacy development and create a literacy-rich environment in the home.
  • Builders provide follow-up support by telephone.
  • Target population is preschool children but builders have worked with families with children up to 12 years.
  • This program was specifically designed to meet the needs of rural families, where transportation may pose a barrier to bringing parents together to meet as a group, and/or parents are simply not ready to be part of a group-based program.


  • The program is designed to build on the existing parenting skills of participants, expand on their ability to develop their children’s language and literacy skills, and encourage their own literacy development.
  • Practitioners choose from a variety of parenting topics (e.g., positive discipline, building self-esteem, listening skills) presented through flexible and adaptable plain language materials and a facilitator’s guide.
  • Parents learn to model good literacy practices with their children.
  • Variations of the program have been developed specifically for Aboriginal, English as Second Language, and Francophone families.


  • Parents and preschool children engage together in activities that enhance development of oral language, early literacy, and social interaction skills.
  • Parents participate in presentations/discussions to increase their knowledge of literacy, child development and positive parenting.
  • The program informs and links families with other child and adult learning programs in the community.
  • Sessions run weekly for 15 to 30 weeks and are led by trained facilitators who are supported with ongoing training, mentoring and program resources.


  • A group program for parents and their babies and young children, focused on orally-delivered interactive rhymes, stories, and songs delivered at a slow and relaxed pace with plenty of repetition of materials and casual discussion of issues and questions that arise.
  • The program aims to strengthen the parent-child bond, provide a welcoming and supportive group for parents, enhance literacy skills, and help link them to other resources in the community.
  • Sessions are generally delivered once a week for ten weeks, with at least two program facilitators present at each session.


  • The program promotes oral language development in babies and toddlers and provides a positive, supportive environment for parents through group-based delivery.
  • Programs involve circle time with parents and infants/toddlers during which rhymes, stories, and songs are shared and modeled.
  • In most programs, two facilitators lead a program for 10 weeks, with one hour-long session per week.


  • Story Sacks supports the development of literacy skills in a range of settings.
  • A story sack is a large cloth bag made by parents or other volunteers in the community that contains a children’s book, soft toys of the main characters, props, and scenery relating to the story, a non-fiction book linked to the theme, an audio-tape, and a language-game based on the book to stimulate and extend reading activities.
  • Delivery of this model must include actively coaching and modeling to the parents and caregivers how to use the resources and activities to support their children’s oral language and early literacy development, and providing appropriate resources for parents and caregivers to practice these strategies at home.

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What is the Indigenous funding stream?

All Calgary Learns grants support low income learners in programs that support literacy and foundation skill development.

The defining factor with the Indigenous Stream is the emphasis on programming that is designed, implemented and evaluated from an Indigenous perspective to best meet the needs of Indigenous learners.

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How do you define Indigenous learners?

Indigenous is defined as First Nations (status and non-status), Métis or Inuit people.

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What do you mean by “Indigenous perspective”?

Indigenous perspective could mean many things. In the case of Calgary Learns, we are looking for programs and projects that are more than just a program that recruits Indigenous Learners.

An Indigenous perspective usually is framed in a holistic manner, inclusive of the whole person, their mind, their body, their spirit and their heart. There are many ways that Indigenous cultures view this, however across most cultures there is an understanding of an interconnectedness between all beings, all peoples and the environment that surrounds us.

There are many helpful Indigenous models that can be used to design, implement and evaluate a program that could address the unique needs of adult Indigenous learners. It is important that the knowledge comes from “expert” sources such as Elders, community leaders, and people with experience and understanding of diverse Indigenous cultures and traditions. Models such as the incorporation of the Medicine Wheel, 7 Grandfather Teachings, or the Tipi Model could be used to best support Indigenous Learners.

It is our hope that programs and projects will be designed and delivered by and for Indigenous learners in an inclusive, respectful and knowledgeable way. We encourage organizations to determine the models that will best fit for them and the learners.

If you have more questions or would like some direction in regards to Indigenous perspective, design or otherwise, please feel free to contact our Indigenous Liaison at mfry@calgarylearns.com.

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What are examples of Indigenous Learning principles?

There are a number of different resources available and some are very place based to a specific Indigenous group, Nation or area however there are universal elements that can utilized if done respectfully by knowledgeable individuals.

As an example, out of British Columbia comes the First Peoples Principles of Learning:

  • Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
  • Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
  • Learning involves recognising the consequence of one’s actions.
  • Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
  • Learning is embedded in memory, history and story.
  • Learning involves patience and time.
  • Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.
  • Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.

Here are some other resources. We encourage you to seek out the ones that best suit your program and its learner outcomes.

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Why did you change your funding year to July-June?

In 2016, at the request of our funder Alberta Advanced Education, we changed our annual funding term to match the provincial Community Adult Learning Program (CALP) year. Now our granting is in sync with the Program and with our sister CALP recipients across the province.

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When does Calgary Learns accept proposals now?

Starting with our Calls for Proposals in the Fall,

We accept Program proposals and Indigenous Program proposals the 15th of January each year.
We accept Initiative proposals the 1st of June each year.

These proposals are for the upcoming funding term of July 1 through June 30.

Decisions are announced after receipt of our provincial grant, typically late May—early June. Initiative grants are announced at the end of June.

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Is it true that you now fund professional development?

Yes. In 2015, the Community Adult Learning Program (CALP) released new grant guidelines that allow us use our funding for instructor and volunteer tutor training focused on foundational adult learning. Initiative project funds can now be used to develop and deliver this type of training.

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If our program is funded, are there any required evaluation measures we must track?

Yes. As part of the provincial Community Adult Learning Program (CALP), all funded programs must have a system in place to collect and report evaluation measures as outlined in the Course List and Measures Tracking form. Please review this document and contact Jeannie Finch with any questions.

Initiative projects with learners in pilot learning opportunities must track and report an abbreviated list of evaluation measures as outlined in the Pilot Course List and Measures Tracking form.

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Do you fund individuals or provide bursaries for individual learners?

No. Our funding is only available to eligible organizations: provincially registered non-profit organizations, charities, and not-for profit companies incorporated under Part 9 of the provincial Corporations Act.

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Must my organization become a Calgary Learns member before applying for funding?

Organizations are not required to become a member before submitting a proposal. However if your proposal is successful your organization must become a member before receiving funds. Check out our membership.

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What advice does Calgary Learns have for returning applicants?

When previously funded programs reapply we look for how the proposal:

  • Attends to changes in the community context of your program: similar programs, and possible synergies with local programs that feed into your program or that your learners move on to. Is your program changing with the world around it?
  • Addresses the specific questions we ask in our correspondence with you.
  • Shows us how you are reflecting and improving on your work: your fresh insights, key feedback from learners, and provides evidence of the ways you listen to and accommodate learners.

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What should I do if I want to submit a new proposal?

Calgary Learns accepts all eligible funding proposals. However, we urge potential applicants to call the Grants Coordinator Jeannie Finch (403-266-6444, ext. 2) or Indigenous Liaison Monique Fry (403.266.6444 ext.4) to discuss new proposal ideas. If your idea appears to fit our mandate and criteria for funding, we invite you to submit a proposal. We strongly recommend that you book a proposal preview meeting to receive feedback before formally submitting your proposal.

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What is a proposal preview meeting?

We invite applicants to come in for a one-hour proposal preview meeting to discuss your draft proposal and assess its readiness for the review process. These meetings with the Grants Coordinator and/or Indigenous Liaison are available in the month before a proposal deadline. In order to prepare for the discussion, we must receive your draft proposal electronically within 4 business days of the meeting date.


Who reviews my proposal?

Proposals are logged and screened for eligibility by Calgary Learns staff.

Separate teams of community experts review eligible proposals in five different programming areas: Literacy and numeracy, English language learning, Computer and workplace learning, Community learning, and Indigenous learning. Proposals are reviewed by a five person team consisting of two Calgary Learns staff members and three professionals who volunteer their time. Typically, we select an Adult Literacy/Essential Skills specialist (or English Language Learning specialist), a local community funder, and someone with current understanding of grassroots community needs and development initiatives. Calgary Learns board members knowledgeable in adult learning also participate on our review teams.

The review teams’ recommendations are communicated to the Calgary Learns Board of Directors. Funding allocations are ultimately approved by the Board of Directors.

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How do I report on our grant?

Separate reporting formats are available for Program grants and Initiative grants, Indigenous Program grants and Indigenous Initiative grants. Reporting documents are in the right-hand column.


Who do I contact if I have more questions about Calgary Learns funding?

Please contact Grants Coordinator Jeannie Finch (403.266.6444, ext. 2) or Indigenous Liaison Monique Fry (403.266.6444 ext.4) with your funding questions.

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