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 2: Born and bred Canadian taxpayers bear all the cost of ESL programs.
The debate heats up any time the question of “who is paying for all this?” comes up. Right now, both the provincial and federal government constantly shift responsibility for public ESL program funding to each others’ shoulders. The fingerpointing only hurts ESL learners, ESL teachers, and the future of the ESL education programs.
This back to forth furthers general public’s view of ESL learners as free-loaders dependent on taxpayers’ money. The fact that many students enrolled in ESL programs already have jobs in British Columbia, and in fact pay their fair share of taxes gets completely lost. I doubt that anyone disagrees that all taxpayers should benefit from paying their taxes, regardless of the final number on their tax forms. Taxpayers, including non-English speaking Canadian residents, contribute to provincial budget. It is also extremely important to take notice of the fact that many students attend advanced ESL classes with the purpose to move forward to post secondary education or to apply for jobs for which they qualify, except for language proficiency, for. According to the 2014/15-2016/17 Service Plan, issued by B.C. government, over the next 25 years, B.C. is expected to face labour and skills shortage due to the demographic changes. This would suggest that skilled immigrants to British Columbia do and will increasingly contribute to economic well-being of the province. Thus, only the provincial government can bear the responsibility of funding ESL education for adult immigrants.