August 17, 2016

Right Vs. Wrong

As an assignment for my Professional Practice course, I have to choose a story in the media and discuss ethics. I have chosen a story that is currently in the news regarding a teacher strike at Vancouver English Centre (By Matt Meuse, CBC News Posted: Aug 04, 2016) and is still ongoing.

You can read the full article here: VEC Teachers Strike

Kidder's Model of ethical decision making and Four Paradigms for understanding ethical dilemmas is what I will reference here. For the purposes of this post, I would like to look at right vs. wrong through the lens of justice vs. mercy.

Institutional Perspective

The article states that the ESL teachers' strike has cancelled English classes for 600 Vancouver students because teachers at VEC want fair wages, and the school is not negotiating with them.

According to VEC's website, their own refund policy states that students must submit written notice of withdrawal to be considered for a refund.

Their policy also states that once the program has begun, VEC is entitled to retain their tuition, if the student has not provided written notice. For example, if a student withdraws  after 19% of the program's duration, there is no refund.
There is nothing in the policy that refers to the institution not delivering the program as sold to the student.

Conveniently for the institution, they are not Languages Canada members, and they are not offering Class A programs under the PTA bylaws.

It is clear the insitution has protected itself = justice; however, they have not protected their own students (customers) and their rights. In this case, there has been no consideration of mercy. Offering activities in lieu of education is insufficient, in my opinion (and Hector Diaz mentioned below). But I am merciful.

The institution should think about the long-term impact this may have on their future enrollments. What will this due to their reputation?

Student Perspective

Students are claiming that they are not receiving refunds on their tuition, and instead, the school is offering activities and sightseeing excursions around Vancouver.

A student of VEC, Lala Bandres, asks "What happens if I [go] back to Mexico, and this school doesn't give me my money, and this school doesn't give me my education? I quit my job to study here and I [now] don't have anything — no school and no money."

Another student Hector Diaz, says sightseeing activities aren't an acceptable substitute for the education he paid for, or the refund he's been told he won't be receiving.

In a previous post I wrote about, schools are in need of international enrollments to survive. In addition to this, our economy is in need as well. According to University Affairs, in their article
Quick action on international students could boost Canada’s economic competitiveness  "51 percent of Canada’s international students intend to apply for PR upon completion of their studies and that international students who transition to PR (PDF) tend to fare well in the economy."

As I have taken a merciful approach to this ethical dilemma, I think that if we are in need of international students, investment, talent, etc. then why are we not doing more to protect it? We will lose our appeal to other higher ranking countries, as seen in this article about the Top 20 Countries for International Students in the table below, or other countries piloting competitive initiatives like a 5 year Pathway visa in New Zealand. Students have so many choices nowadays, why would they come to Canada?

Teacher Perspective

The CBC article claims that the starting wage at VEC is $18 an hour for teachers in the adult ESL program, where other schools pay $20 or $21 an hour and the median income for VEC teachers is $25,000. Teachers also want to be paid for the extra prep time they put in outside of class time as they put in an additional three to five hours of unpaid work a week.

With an education degree, a TESOL certificate, and 5 years of experience under my belt, I was hired at $18/hour. I worked my way up through professional development and years of experience, as it has gone with every other company I have worked for. VEC is not the first school to strike over pay. PGIC and the Public School teachers of BC are some other examples of recent strikes.

I cannot speak to the average salary of a language teacher in Vancouver. I empathize with these teachers; however, I say "why did you become a teacher!?" We know when we embark on this career path that we will be underpaid, and we will have to prep outside of class time, and we will have to grade whatever we assign. The reward is in the work we do and that is why I come to work everyday. If I don't teach my class, I know there is someone else out there who will. And that someone may even do it for less pay. Maybe not so merciful, but realistic.

Regulatory Perspective

PTA bylaws exist to protect the consumer (student) studying in a career college or language program where a single enrollment is 6 months or longer and/or tuition is $4,000 and students hold a valid study permit.

Based on the facts I have access to, via the articles referenced in this post, the student "received a three-month student visa, and paid about $5,000 in tuition fees." I ask, should the student not be protected? Unfortunately, under the PTA bylaws, she is not. Generally, ESL students pay tuition weekly/monthly and have a rolling enrollment structure where they can extend their studies as they go. As such, Lala Bandre and Hector Diaz are not protected.

Another regulator body is Languages Canada. They have a fund that will cover student tuition in the event of a closure or failure to provide placement, but what about a strike?

If you review the Languages Canada Fact Sheet BC and the complete list of their Quality Standards and Specifications, you will see that there is nothing that states what students should do in the event that lessons are not delivered.

Which brings me to the main ethical dilemma here. The students have a right to the product they have paid for. All parties involved should work together, protect themselves, at the same time as protecting each other.

Opinion Section

The solution for this dilemma is this...Students should empower themselves with knowledge of how the ESL world works when they want to study abroad. This should include accredited/designated vs. non-accredited/designated schools, eligibility for tuition protection, and refund policies of each individual institution they are interested in attending. Knowledge is power.

It appears that agencies, institutions and regulatory bodies all operate as individuals focusing on protecting themselves, even when they think they are protecting the consumer.

Agencies do not educate their clients on their rights, or the students would have been told their school was on strike before they arrived and advised them to submit a letter of withdrawal. Some agencies have assisted students in being placed at other schools, and to them, I say thank you for being merciful.

Institutions offer refunds, but only under certain circumstances. If they had the best interests of their students at heart = mercy, they would have sent them to them schools and paid their tuition, thus, protecting their reputation.

Regulatory bodies do their best, but do not collaborate. If they did, language schools would have better protection for their students, and Languages Canada and the Ministry of Advanced Education would develop policies that actually worked for rolling enrollments, extensions, short duration programs, etc.

Instead, students attending the same school could be covered if they enrolled for a 6 month language course, and could not if they are in a 4 week language course. If a school goes bankrupt, only the 6 month enrollment is protected. Language schools must comply with these regulations, but sort their students, and protect only a fraction of them. Make sense?

To finish up my rant, I return to my solution. I encourage students to research their options, make phone calls, read reviews, and protect themselves! Use sites like Schools in Canada whose goal is to provide international students with information to help them decide on which schools to study at in Canada.  Or enjoy the "sightseeing activities" they might receive in lieu of their language lessons.

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