Earlier this year, the federal government cut off ESL funding for post-secondary institutions. This puts an end to Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement, which previously funded provincial ESL education, and makes the provincial government responsible for the financial support of public ESL programs. This decision may also put an end to many advanced and special purpose ESL courses offered at public institutions of British Columbia. It affects thousands of students of higher levels of English proficiency, instructors, and staff.
In response to the budget cuts, one of the affected institutions, Vancouver Community College (VCC) launched “ESL Matters” , a campaign that quickly gained popularity on social media through Facebook and Twitter. Through this campaign many ESL professionals, students, and the general public have expressed their support for public ESL programs. These programs, supporters argue, benefit learners by allowing them to advance beyond basic English skills that limit their social and economic opportunities in Canada. At the same time, judging by the comments to online articles and posts, the ESL Matters campaign has uncovered how misinformed many Canadians are about the nature of adult ESL programs, the sources of their funding, and their student body.
Misconception 1: We have to pay for their courses and they still speak poorly after being here for decades.
The public doesn’t seem to understand is that adult ESL programs in North America often create a glass ceiling for their patrons. By focusing on Basic English language skills these programs propel the view that ESL learners are deficient individuals capable only of manual labour. Despite attending ESL programs, ESL learners find themselves constrained to specific occupations and can’t move forward. The curricula of ESL programs offered to immigrants, often overlook the fact that many adults enroll into these programs with diverse needs. While many are at the beginning levels of English language proficiency, others are highly educated and need language skills to further their education or apply their knowledge at work.
Today, many special and advanced ESL programs are in danger of disappearing from the public education. Federal funding of public ESL education is only able to cover LINC (Language Instruction for New Canadians) and ELSA (English Language Services for Adults). However, research has shown that these programs cannot be expected to meet the needs of the diverse body of ESL learners in British Columbia. With federal funding limited to these two programs, British Columbia’s ESL training providers can only turn to the provincial government. And indeed, in its rhetoric, provincial government seems to recognise the value of adult education. But in fact, the funding that it has allocated for adult ESL programs is minuscule and predicted to run out by the end of 2014. VCC will lose its Advanced ESL program as well as other public adult ESL programs. Budget costs at British Columbia’s Camosun College, Douglas College, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University have already led to staff reduction and elimination of several courses, including advanced English language programs.