Gabriel Yiu: Why is B.C. the only province not funding college ESL training?

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      Since last year, B.C. advanced education minister Amrik Virk has been repeating the same message on the college ESL funding cut again and again. Virk’s message is to blame the federal government and that he has already provided one-year bridge funding and that he is working to maintain some of the college ESL program.

      When we first heard this last year, it was a responsible and encouraging message. Minister Virk promised to maintain college ESL language training for immigrants. However, after listening to the same message for six months, then nine months, when the funding for the year is running out and the minister is still blaming the feds two years after the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement ended, it sounds more like a deception than an actual promise.

      The reality is, since the federal government is funding the elementary levels of the ESL LINC program, Minister Virk could just sit on his hands and there will still be ESL programs in the colleges. It is the intermediate, high, and professional levels that are being axed.

      Rally after rally, from Vancouver to Victoria, the ESL immigrant students have delivered their message loud and clear.

      Even the legislature’s select standing committee on finance and government services, which is chaired and dominated by the governing B.C. Liberal Party’s MLAs, has recommended in their report to the government that the provincial government should “provide adequate funding to support provincially-funded ESL programs delivered by BC post-secondary institutions, and work with post-secondary institutions to develop a long-term and sustainable strategy for the delivery of ESL.”

      Recently, Chinese community organization leaders stepped up and delivered a seven-point statement to the premier, urging “Premier Christy Clark to maintain funding for accessible, affordable College-based ESL programming.”

      Right after the community forum, Minister Virk finally issued this new written statement: “The Ministry of Advanced Education continues to work with institutions on how they can keep English language training at higher levels such as academic level 8 and 9 sustainable beyond 2014/15, and will communicate any decisions, once they are made.”

      This sounds like an encouraging message because it looks like the minister is finally facing and dealing with the reality of the funding cuts. He has committed “to work with institutions” to “keep English language training at higher levels” that are “sustainable beyond 2014/15”.

      It’s very unfortunate that the sudden optimistic mood was gone the following day, when the education and advanced education ministers announced that “Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, public post-secondary institutions in British Columbia will be allowed to charge tuition fees for all adult upgrading courses, including ESL programs.”

      My goodness! Minister Virk’s long-term resolution to fix B.C.’s unprecedented ESL crisis is to allow postsecondary institutions to charge tuition fees on ESL program but no funding from the provincial government?

      As a former board member of Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the minister for advanced education, Virk should know very well that merely allowing postsecondary institutions to charge tuition fees on ESL program without government grants is not going to “keep” those high levels programs. Otherwise, the government can simply cut all the postsecondary institution funding and let them operate with tuition fees.

      Right after winning the 2013 election, Christy Clark appeared on Chinese media attributing her victory to the support of the Chinese immigrant community; now it is time to see how sincere her appreciation really is.

      Gabriel Yiu is an award-winning commentator, immigrant, and small business owner, and a former B.C. NDP candidate.




      Dec 9, 2014 at 1:56pm

      ESL is important, but who benefits from it? The ESL student. Who should pay for it? The ESL student.

      Surely, if you are moving from one country to another, you are by definition a rather strong-minded, independent person, and you probably have a few bucks or you wouldn't be coming to Canada. You're not a helpless blob. You would have made plans to get shelter, wear clothes, and eat food. You would also know that in Canada, a person needs to know English and/or French.

      All of this should be in your pre-immigration planning, and all of this should be an expense that you calculated in advance. Immigrants to New Zealand have to pre-pay ESL, for example.

      Now, I am sure that there is room for a lot of government intervention in the sense that some ESL schools are probably good and some look like laughable dive joints, and due to the importance of the service they offer, there needs to be some standardization to protect the consumer from rip offs. I also have no problem with Canadian authorities recognizing that some legitimate immigrants (like certain refugees) may have no cash at all and totally deserve public funding. Fine, let this be means-tested.

      A free-for-all ESL is absurd.

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      Dec 9, 2014 at 3:46pm

      Sure Gabe, why not spend more taxpayer money on people who can spend their own money on themselves for their new cars and condos, but can't afford their own language classes.

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      Gabriel Yiu

      Dec 9, 2014 at 8:35pm

      Whether they came from China, Vietnam, Iran or from Peru, Canada is receiving some very well educated immigrants to join us. Even though they are highly qualified and experienced, their skills are not being utilized to its full potential because of this language barrier.

      Some people say that Canada should pick immigrants who are able to communicate in English. The reality is, for non-English-speaking countries, even though they are taught English since elementary school, their English skills still need to be brushed up in order to fit into Canadian society. In China nowadays, people start learning English in elementary school so a high school graduate will eventually have over 10 years of learning English and yet most find it difficult to communicate and live a full life here in Canada; not to mention working in their professional field.

      As a couple students from China told me, in addition to their accent, it's the use of words, pronunciation and the culture that is very different. They can read and write, but it's particularly difficult for them to speak and listen to the locals. In addition, there are specific and technical terms and phrases that each profession has that may be hard to learn. VCC also teaches workforce culture and integration in their ESL program.

      Education is an investment. Investing in ESL is a real bargain. These immigrants already have over 2 decades of education, professional training and experiences. By investing a little in their language upgrade, we will be able to utilize their skills and education.

      The fact is, not all the immigrants are wealthy. A lot of VCC's ESL students have day-time job and they've a family to look after.

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      Just another immigrant

      Dec 13, 2014 at 9:02am

      As always Yiu's writing shows a strong China bias. Why should this be so? Why would all tax payers pay for someone else's learning? Why did they not study English before migrating? I too want to study for free at UBC for free! The problem with ESl is as follows:
      1. The ESL levels that were provided are still far too low to get a job within their profession. Yet few immigrants invest in their own English skills focusing only on what they get for free!
      2. ESL is free! That is a huge issue. Anything that is free has little or no value and the students behave that way! Go to any ESL class and the moment students leave they start speaking their own language which kind of negates any learning! Think immersion!
      3. There is a big difference between learning and teaching English. I have seen people who did not speak a word of English who decided to learn it. And they did so and are successful. How? By making a decision to learn. Not by sitting in a class for two hours watching the teacher and spending the rest of the day speaking their mother tongue. Only when they PAY for it will they value the lesson (pun intended!)
      We should as right minded thinkers reject stupid writings like this as they only serve to divide us!
      Let's call out frauds like this who try to make a living by whipping up ethnic rhetoric to make themselves look like they speak for the community. Speak to a dozen Chinese who did not vote for Yiu and how they scorn his divisional poppycock.
      And, before this turns into anti-immigrant writing, let me assure you I am an immigrant but do not need to speak to my community in this puerile fashion to get support!

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      Gabriel Yiu

      Dec 17, 2014 at 1:24am

      Be informed. Many of the college ESL students are not from Chinese. There're great many countries that English/French is not their official language. Here is the link to some of the student's stories.

      The ESL is free because the federal government collected a landing fee from the immigrants.

      Actually, Canadian adult can obtain post-secondary English learning free of charge. So why shouldn't immigrant adult? The VCC College Preparatory Program is to help immigrants obtain grade 12 English so that they could study other college or university program (of course they've to pay tuition like local born Canadians).

      It's true that there're some abuses in the ESL classes but those are in elementary levels. The college ESL that are being cancelled are intermediate, high and professional levels, students need to pass exam in order to get into these classes.

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