When the NDP government eliminated tuition fees for Adult Basic Education (ABE) courses in August, Vancouver Island University (VIU) Powell River campus missed an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of local students looking to upgrade their education.
In September, after university staff members confirmed they were monitoring and tracking requests for adult basic education classes, the Peak received several letters from students and residents, most of whom spoke English as a second language, calling on VIU to reinstate the free courses so they could further their education, explore potential career paths and eventually find gainful employment.
According to campus administrator Greg Cran, only a handful of local students have expressed interest in ABE courses since the government reversed the BC Liberals' decision to charge tuition for them, a factor that had put the courses out of financial reach for a large segment of the population.
Cran confirmed that online ABE courses being offered by VIU are very popular, pointing out that classroom-based courses are not the only option to upgrade an education.
Meanwhile, a continuing education course offered by instructor Eva Van Loon taught English in a class made up mostly of newcomers to Canada. The class is not being renewed when it ends later this month and the students would be funded by the government if an ABE class were available.
It is clear that, although considered small by some, there is a need for classroom-based ABE courses, and there is potential to build on the current interest and fill up at least one classroom.
Is VIU actively promoting opportunities for ABE classroom-based learning? Is it fair for VIU administrators to say that not enough students expressed interest to offer the program on campus, and that classroom instructors are too costly?
Many educators across the province applauded the government's decision in August to eliminate ABE tuition, saying it will improve access to education for low-income students and those new to Canada. ABE courses act as an important bridge to other post-secondary education programs that are career-focused and lead to jobs that pay a livable wage.
Online courses may work for some, but classroom-based ABE learning should not be neglected, especially when it has been identified by government and educators as a province-wide need.
The NDP government has taken steps to make ABE classroom-based courses more accessible for all residents of BC. Now VIU's Powell River campus needs to follow suit.
Jason Schreurs, publisher/editor