Assiniboine Community College quietly expanded the number of classes available to higher level English as a second language students last Monday, after Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada finally agreed to crack open the purse strings a wee bit more.
As you can read in today’s Brandon Sun, for the rest of May and the month of June, ACC will offer classes four days per week to between 150 and 180 students, with increased class time hours. While that is certainly an improvement over the 80 or so students who were able to take in classes two days per week since March 31, it remains far from ideal.
As regular readers may recall, the ESL Program funding for Canadian Language Benchmarks level 5-8, which is on offer at ACC, had been slashed from $730,000 to $190,000, as of March 31, meaning that the ESL course schedule that had been underway at the college —one that was supposed to continue on into April — had been cut short.
Sun reporters had been told earlier this year that regional IRCC staff would meet with Brandon service providers — including the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832, which offers levels 1-7 — this spring, in order to assess their service delivery and "review the need for higher level language classes." If there was a demonstrated need for "available funds" at that time, the IRCC would reconsider funding.
That appears to have happened.
Funding levels have been bumped up by more than $100,000, bringing total program funding back up to $303,000 — a little less than half of what was initially earmarked.
While this is somewhat good news for local newcomers who want to continue their education in Brandon, next year’s funding remains in doubt.
"One of the things that IRCC had committed to was working with us to continue to understand what the demand was," ACC president Mark Frison said yesterday. "Certainly the people what were in process in training as well as the numbers on the list I think were helpful in then re-examining what they were willing to do.
"I do hope that as we continue into the fall that if there is that demand, that they’ll be equally as helpful."
Thus far, plans remain to offer classes only two days per week in the fall, which will only lengthen the waiting list for the ACC’s ESL program.
Certainly it seems as if the waiting list that suddenly grew after funding was cut earlier this year was a large part of the reason that the federal government changed its tune. Until now, the feds have been claiming that there have been fewer recent newcomer arrivals accessing settlement services in Brandon over the last few years, which resulted in "under-utilized capacity in higher level language classes" — a claim that is easily refuted when you look at the enrolment numbers.
Before the funding cut, ACC — which offers only the higher-level English classes (5-8), had 503 student registrations in the ESL program. That’s a jump from 442 in 2015-16, and 309 back in 2012-13. Clearly the federal government either wasn’t paying attention — somebody screwed up — or this was wilful ignorance to merely save a few bucks before the Trudeau government tabled its budget bill.
We’re glad to see that local ESL students will be able to complete their course work this year, and thankful that the federal government and ACC have established a better line of communication.
The students, too, should be proud of themselves for attempting to take charge of their own futures by marching down to the Sun office and telling us their stories and concerns after our initial breaking story that first announced the funding cut. Their stories, and the mass of letters to the editor that they sent us and we published, hopefully helped the IRCC make the right decision.
But quite frankly, had the government actually listened in the first place, this farce need never have happened at all. We can only hope that those on the federal side of that two-way communication continue to speak our language.