Dear TESL Ontario Members,
At the joint meeting of the TESL Ontario Board of Directors and the TESL Ontario Affiliate Representatives on January 21, 2012, the Affiliate Representatives were asked to report on developments, trends and concerns from their perspective. Of course, one common theme was the impact that the changes to the levels of funding to Citizenship and Immigration Canada funded programs had had around Ontario.
At the February 10 meeting of the Ontario Region Language Advisory Committee (ORLAC), a multi-sector committee advising CIC-Ontario region on issues in language training programs, I shared with the CIC representatives the concerns that the Affiliate Representatives had brought forward.
It was then decided that these concerns should be shared with Veronica Barnes, Regional Director of Settlement IGA and Multiculturalism, and Vanessa Ambrosoni, Director, Greater Ontario Area, both of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Please find the letter below:
On behalf of TESL Ontario members employed in LINC and ELT programs in Ontario, I am writing to express our concerns regarding the impact of funding changes and reductions on learners, LINC and ELT teachers and program administration.
Some decisions taken at a higher level seem to work against the goal of encouraging newcomers who are eligible for Citizenship and Immigration funded programs to enroll in language training. For example, the removal of program advertising from LINC contribution agreements has undermined the ability of SPOs to recruit learners.
Other decisions have impacted how contribution agreements are managed in Ontario. The decision to move to a model of regional management of budgets appears to have exaggerated the differences in programs from region to region. There is an apparent lack of consistency regarding the interpretation of CIC’s directives between the regions in Ontario. The extent to which efficiencies had to be found varied from 5 to 15% depending on the region. Moreover, while SPOs had been told to anticipate the need to identify efficiencies in their 2012-2013 budgets, the changes that are currently being addressed for the 2012-2013 fiscal were not anticipated by SPOs. Those who have a unionized workforce are particularly challenged to meet the terms of negotiated contracts because the funding parameters change from year to year. The lack of predictability and short timeframe in which SPOs must respond to these changes undermines the SPO’s ability to respond thoughtfully and rationally. When SPOs are not able to plan for financial reductions, decisions may be made to cut a variety of program “supports” which in turn undermine effective delivery of language training.
It is our understanding that some SPOs were told that they must close their summer programs while others were not required to do so. The SPO that closes for the summer is disadvantaged because closures impact learner progress and retention. LINC teachers report that, when learners returned to class in September after an 8 week interruption in program delivery, they demonstrated a regression to an earlier level of English language competency. The need to review language skills acquired before the summer closure impacted the learner’s rate of progress as well as the SPO’s ability to meet the targets in its workplan. Staff also found the disruption of their employment to be very difficult to manage financially.
The reduction in levels of funding has had other effects on teachers employed in CIC-funded programs. The declining funding level and the annual changes to the terms of funding has had an impact on the recruitment and retention of teachers. We heard reports of teachers leaving the field because of the uncertain employment conditions. This loss of expertise is detrimental to successful delivery of language training programs.
For those who choose to stay, a reduction in the number of sick days and the inflexibility to move funds from other lines in a contribution agreement to cover staff sick days, has affected their employment conditions. When there is no money to pay teachers for sick days, they come to work ill which threatens the health of the learners as well as the other teachers. Moreover, when money allocated to provide substitute teachers runs out, program managers are forced to combine classes which consequently impacts the learning environment negatively.
Still other decisions have impacted specific regions. One example is the decision to fund the piloting of PBLA by Ottawa-region SPOs from within existing contribution agreements rather than through additional funding. The PBLA pilots were funded by reducing the number of hours of programs, extending March breaks, eliminating supports such as childminding, and the closing of programs in the summer. These cuts will impact learner access to training as well as learner progress. The cuts are also borne by the LINC teachers who will not be paid during the closures.
The changes to the funding formula as well as the localization of the management of contribution agreements has challenged the ability of SPOs to meet learner needs. Moreover, although many SPOs continue to report waitlists for their programs, CIC continues to assert that the number of eligible newcomers arriving in Ontario has recently decreased. It is not clear to the learners why they must wait to attend LINC classes.
TESL Ontario would like the opportunity to discuss these issues with you at your earliest convenience.
Chair, TESL Ontario
Board of Directors.