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ESL funding cuts at Camosun spark anger from students, staff

MLA Lana Popham addresses students at Camosun’s Interurban campus prior to an open house this afternoon to address government cuts to ESL funding at the Saanich post-secondary institution. - Christine van Reeuwyk/News staff
MLA Lana Popham addresses students at Camosun’s Interurban campus prior to an open house this afternoon to address government cuts to ESL funding at the Saanich post-secondary institution.
— image credit: Christine van Reeuwyk/News staff

Students and staff shed tears of anger and frustration during a town hall discussion about language class funding at Camosun College’s Interurban campus Thursday afternoon (Feb. 20).

Camosun College Students Society hosted the open house to have students air their concerns with local NDP politicians in the wake of ESL funding cuts.

At any given time, 200 to 300 recent newcomers to Victoria receive English as a second language training at Camosun, often for free. The college found out in December that $1.3 million worth of federal funding allocated for domestic ESL training wouldn't be renewed in April.

The town hall discussion gave affected students the opportunity to share their concerns and stories with media and members of the legislative assembly, including Opposition Critic for Advanced Education David Eby, MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, Saanich South MLA Lana Popham and Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake.

Students used their varying levels of English to share concerns primarily surrounding education required for employment.

Christine Kennedy, originally from the Ivory Coast, wants to be a health care assistant. In order to take the course, she must have level 5 in English.

“My English have to be improve, they say I need to have level 5, then I can go to HCA course,” she told the crowd of about 100. “We don’t want ESL to be cut off. … We really need that to be in Canadian society.”

It was a sentiment shared among the standing-room-only crowd. One man who identified himself as a mechanical engineer, said with instruction he’d be easily employable.

“Without language … without proper English I can’t find a job,” he said.

A single mother of three children under the age of 12 shared a story about how she applied for a job and was told her English wasn’t strong enough.

“I want to start now to support (my kids),” said Louisa Mamisau, who came here from the Philippines two years ago. “While my kids are still young I plan for the future. … How can I support them? If I can get work I can pay tax, and help (other) people.”

The three NDP members agreed with students and staff that the funding cut was shortsighted.

“They think of a program like ESL as an expense. They need to think of it an investment,” Popham said. “Every person in this room has so much to offer this province.”

On Wednesday (Feb. 19) the provincial government announced Camosun College was among 17 institutions awarded transition funding for the ESL changes. Camosun was allotted $1.43 million of one-time funding for planning and changes needed to transition the language programs to a new model where immigrant settlement services are directly administered by the federal government.

reporter@saanichnews.com

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