News / Vancouver

Students rally to save ESL program at Vancouver Community College

The largest English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Western Canada will be forced to close its doors and lay off 72 teachers next year due to provincial funding cuts, Vancouver Community College students and faculty said Tuesday at a rally to save the college’s ESL courses.

More than 800 people attended the rally, including NDP MLA and education critic David Eby, to implore the province to step in with additional funding after Dec. 31.

The problem stems from the federal government’s decision to cancel funding to immigration services, including ESL delivery. The province provided VCC with $7.92 million so it could keep running classes this year, but it informed the college last week there will be zero dollars available once the transitional funding dries up.

“Of all the cuts, the elimination of funding for ESL seems the most shortsighted and inexplicable,” especially considering Premier Christy Clark’s focus on skills training to land jobs, said Jenelle Davies, of the Canadian Federation of Students B.C.

Many students at the rally told stories about how they want to work, but can’t land minimum wage jobs because they can’t speak English.

Morez, an architect from Iran, asked the government to help him finish his English course and get a job in the LNG industry.

Saeideh Ghaffarifar, a permanent resident who is a medical doctor with a master’s degree and PhD in Iran, needs to sharpen her English skills to pass Canada’s qualifying exams.

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk was not made available for an interview, but his ministry spokesperson emailed a statement attributed to him.

“Our focus is on ensuring immigrants continue to access ESL training to succeed, find jobs and help the province meet labour market demands in a growing economy,” the statement said, although it did not elaborate on how it would do so if not through post-secondary institutions.

The province has “repeatedly made it clear” it preferred the previous funding model canceled by the federal government.

“I appreciate that this is a very challenging time for students at VCC as they adapt to the new model of English language training. My ministry continues to explore with VCC all of the options available to determine if they can continue to offer some level of ESL beyond 2014/15.”

Yet Virk’s office cancelled a meeting scheduled for June 11 between him and VCC faculty members. Despite daily efforts to reschedule, Virk has not replied, said Karen Shortt of the VCC faculty association.

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