English as a second language training gets one-year lifeline from B.C.

Funding injection to help Saanich post-secondary institution make transitional changes to ESL programming

Unexpected provincial funding means English as a second language courses at Camosun College will continue for another year.

Last Wednesday the province announced Camosun College was among 17 institutions awarded transition funding to prepare for changes in the way ESL programs are administered in B.C. Camosun was allotted $1.43 million of one-time funding from the Skills Development Employment Benefit for the planning of and move to a new model where immigrant settlement services are directly administered by the federal government.

“That is very good news for us. We were actually planning for a wind down,” said Joan Yates, vice president of communications, advancement and planning. “This means we’re happily … looking at ESL for another year.”

In 2012, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced it would cancel the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement starting April 1, 2014, and $17 million in annual ESL funding that came with it. The college found out last December that $2.5 million allocated for domestic ESL training wouldn’t be renewed.

Camosun is the second largest ESL institution in B.C., after Vancouver Community College.

“We’re looking at reinstating our ESL programs, but the planning is still underway,” Yates said. “We’re literally just working with what we have at this point.”

The day after those funds were announced, Camosun students and staff gathered for an emotional discussion about language class funding.

The Camosun Student Society hosted the event to provide students with a chance to air their concerns to 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 skills to express their anger and frustration about the education cuts, primarily how they need the ESL program to be employable in Canada.

Christine Kennedy, originally from the Ivory Coast, wants to be a health care assistant.

“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.”

One man, who identified himself as a mechanical engineer, said with instruction he’d be easily employable.

“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.”

– with files from Edward Hill


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