The costs of budget cuts to adult ESL education. (In support of ESL Matters Campaign Part 3)

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 3: ESL programs give advantage to immigrants and disadvantage unemployed skilled Canadians.

Aside from new immigrants—who as I mentioned earlier are a diverse group of people driven by diverse needs—many ESL students affected by ESL programming cuts are in fact Canadian permanent residents or citizens. Canada is often portrayed as a tolerant and welcoming country, a stronghold of multiculturalism and multilingualism. Statistics Canada states that 11.7 percent of permanent residents list English as their first language. In British Columbia—a province cutting its ESL programming for children and adults—this number is as high as 31.1 percent. Access to education and social advancement is difficult for this segment of Canadian residents. By reducing funding available for ESL classes, provincial government is denying thousands of people their fundamental right to education. This in turn leads to creation of ‘ethno-boroughs’, areas inhabited by speakers of the same first (not English) language. Permanent residents who can’t speak English are effectively condemned to these areas, unable to interact with the larger society. In her April 2012 press release Naomi Yamamoto—then minister of advanced education—emphasised the priority of adult education for Canadian citizens. She also stressed that adult education would be available for Canadian-born residents whose first language was not English. Honourable Amrik Virk—the current minister of advanced education—echoed that statement in February 2014.But now it seems that programs that would support advanced English language skills development have been excluded from the budget negotiations.

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