VICTORIA — When Joy Chukwura heard the news that adult basic education and English as a second language courses would once again be free in B.C., she could barely contain herself.
“This is the best news I’ve had in a very long time,” she said, after Premier John Horgan announced the move on Tuesday.
“I’m going to go back to school!”
Horgan said his new NDP government would follow through on an election campaign promise to remove fees on ESL and adult learning classes.
The previous Liberal government had placed fees on the classes after a 2014 dispute with the former federal Conservative government that resulted in $22 million less in annual ESL and adult basic education funding.
After the change, in 2015, the cost of adult basic education and ESL fees jumped to as high as $1,600 per semester of full-time studies, and enrolment dropped 35 per cent.
“We can’t afford to leave people behind. As a new government we want to make sure everyone can participate in our economy, and that means everyone having access to the basic skills they need to make sure education is a foundation for them, their children and grandchildren,” said Horgan.
The cost of the change will be revealed in the NDP’s September budget update, he said. The party’s election campaign estimated it would cost $7 million a year.
Horgan said the government will try to ensure that anyone who prepaid for courses in September will get a refund.
Adult basic education courses include night classes that allow people to upgrade skills, or obtain their high-school equivalency.
Chukwura, a single-mother refugee from Nigeria, was about to enter Grade 5 reading classes when the fees were introduced. They would have cost her $1,000 for a three-month course at Vancouver Community College, she said.
The 37-year-old, who had raised her literacy level in English from zero to a Grade 4 equivalent, works full time cleaning hotel rooms. She’s paid $18.50 an hour, putting her over the $30,000 cut-off line for a grant to a two-person family.
With rent of $1,200 a month, utilities, transit card, phone and food bills plus her daughter’s costs attending Langara, $1,000 a month was too much.
“I had a dream, then when I couldn’t afford school I was down and depressed,” said Chukwura, who came to Canada eight years ago having never attended school. “I never wanted to think about it again.
“Wow. This is good news, really, really, really good news for me. I can’t wait to tell my friends about it,” she said.
“You can do everything as long as you can read. Coming from my background, this is very important to me.”
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