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English class cuts hurt newcomers

'I didn't come to Canada' to mop floors, Winnipeg man says

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Abdoul Toure is a French-speaking immigrant from Mali with a master’s degree in economics and is cleaning schools while he tries to improve his English so he can go back to university to get his degree recognized here.</p>


Abdoul Toure is a French-speaking immigrant from Mali with a master’s degree in economics and is cleaning schools while he tries to improve his English so he can go back to university to get his degree recognized here.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/6/2017 (1065 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Abdoul Toure has a master’s degree in economics from the French-speaking University of Mali, 15 years of work experience and a young family to support.

"Now, I’m cleaning houses and mopping floors. I didn’t come to Canada for that," Winnipeg’s Toure said.

He worked while studying advanced English as an Additional Language (EAL) classes that, effective Friday, are no longer being offered because of federal funding cuts.

He has been accepted into a program at Red River College in the fall, but worries about many other educated newcomers — an estimated 1,000 in Manitoba — whose classes are now cancelled.

"We need English to find work," said Toure, 45, who has a wife and three children. Without it, people get stuck in "survival jobs" and lose hope of ever reaching their potential in their new country, he said.

He has worked to achieve Level 7 English on the Canadian Language Benchmark scale of one to 12, with one for beginners and eight required for university. The Free Press reported in March the federal government was cutting funding for Levels 5 through 8, or Stage 2 EAL classes.

"It has a huge impact (with) a trickle-down effect — not only to Stage 2 students but for students looking at Stage 2 classes in the next year" or so, said Toula Papagiannopoulos, executive director of Edge Skills Centre, Inc.

Part of a settlement plan for many newcomers is to improve their English to the level required to have their credentials recognized, she said. In order for that to happen, their English has to be at a high enough level, well beyond Stage 1.

At Edge, 15 to 20 students in Stage 2 were hoping to continue their classes and another 20 students in Stage 1 were hoping to advance to Stage 2, Papagiannopoulos said.

Throughout the year, they have 50 people on the waiting list for Stage 2 EAL classes. She hopes the federal and provincial governments might be able to work out an arrangement for Stage 2 EAL classes to resume so all newcomers can put their skills to work in Manitoba.

Toure knows the frustration and stress of not being proficient in English and says it has an impact on the person, the community and the economy.

"Where we are is an English-speaking area," said Toure, whose first language, French, hasn’t been enough for him to succeed in Manitoba.

"If they can’t speak the language, they can be very stressed," he added. "That person is a time bomb."

The economist sees English classes as a smart investment in human potential and folks earning potential that will pay off big time. "They will be taxpayers."

From September to June 14, Toure attended half-day classes five days week at Edge Skills Centre, Inc. and completed Level 7, he said.

Once he’s completed his Red River course studying English for university and college, he plans to go back to university and further his education in economics and specialize in project management. For now, he’s working as a cleaner from 3 to 11 p.m.

"It’s what I have to do to take care of my family," Toure said.

With no more federal funding for Stage 2 EAL classes, some non-profits are trying to come up with fee-for-service proposals, said Teresa Burke, director of language support with the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations. One considered charging students $400 for a 10-week course with six to eight hours of class time per week.

"It takes 250 hours for someone to increase one benchmark," Burke said.

Footing the bill for advanced EAL classes is cost-prohibitive for newcomers trying to make ends meet, she said. They’re more likely to spend money supporting their families or their children’s educations than investing in their own English language classes.

Red River College now has the only federally funded Stage 2 EAL program left and there are hundreds of people waiting to get into that program, Burke said. Some advanced English language learners are turning to adult learning centres, which are not designed to teach English as an Additional Language classes.

"That’s not their mandate."

A spokeswoman from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said in an email "it is inaccurate to say that IRCC is cutting support of higher language levels. Contribution agreements are negotiated with each organization based on their own merits and the services they are providing based on the needs of the community...

"The department continues to work closely with Service Providing Organizations in Winnipeg to ensure that the needs of newcomers to Canada are being met."

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography


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Updated on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 12:12 PM CDT: Changes photo

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