Adult education fees to hit Surrey students hard

As of May 1, all high school graduates – including those from other countries – will have to pay tuition to upgrade courses in B.C.

She graduated high school in Pakistan 16 years ago and since then, got married, moved to Canada and had three daughters.

Now 32, Ayesha Rahimyar is finally finding the time to pursue her dream of getting a higher education. Since September, she’s been upgrading courses in English and math at Invergarry Adult Education Centre in Surrey.

Now a single mom recently separated from her husband, Rahimyar’s short-term goal is to complete her Grade 12 courses – which she hopes will build her confidence – so she can get a job and a steady income to support her family.

But she envisions even more for her future.

“My longterm goal is to go to university,” she says. “It’s always been a dream.”

As of next month, however, that goal will be more difficult for her to achieve.

Beginning in May, adults who have graduated from high school – in Canada or elsewhere – but who want to upgrade their high school courses, will have to foot the bill. Current rules have allowed adults with high school diplomas to attend local public learning centres to upgrade courses free of charge.

Depending on the number of courses, the new fees could amount to several hundred, if not thousands, of dollars for adult students.

The provincial government announced in December that as of May 1, it will no longer provide funding to school districts to cover courses for adults who already have their high school diploma – from anywhere in the world. The Ministry of Education website lists 34 classes (including English 12, Math 12 and Chemistry 12) that will no longer be subsidized.

In the Surrey School District, there are about 4,000 full- and part-time adult education students – about a third of whom will be affected by the funding changes. The courses will remain tuition-free for those working toward their Grade 12 graduation for the first time.

For Rahimyar, though she’s been able to take courses for free thus far, now that she’s at the Grade 11 level, she’ll be required to pay. And that’s money she simply doesn’t have.

“I have no idea,” she says when asked what she’ll do when the fees kick in. “Sometimes I don’t want to think about it.”

Aaron Douglas, a teacher at Invergarry, sympathizes with his students. The school’s population, he explains, is not simply those who dropped out or didn’t try in high school, but includes people who may have suffered health issues or had learning disabilities and are working to improve their marks.

But he finds the funding cuts especially unfair for immigrants like Rahimyar, who graduated abroad.

“I think it’s completely unjust to charge someone who graduated in Kenya or a third-world country,” Douglas says. “Even if they have graduated, their diploma isn’t recognized by the post-secondary institutions here. You’re basically trapping them and saying ‘well, if you can afford it, great, if you can’t, too bad.’”

In Delta and Vancouver, fees for the adult education courses will be $550 each.

The Surrey Board of Education has not yet set an amount but is scheduled to address the matter at the April 23 public board meeting.

In making the funding announcement, Education Minister Peter Fassbender emphasized that as long as it’s an adult student’s first time finishing high school, nothing will change. It’s only already-graduated adults who’ll have to pay up.

“High school is free, but further upgrading is not,” Fassbender said. “I think it is reasonable to expect adults who’ve already graduated to contribute to these costs.”

Rahimyar, however, still can’t understand why the government would put up barriers to her improving her circumstances. If she studies, she says, she can get off income assistance and better contribute to society. And that, she says, would also help make the future brighter for her daughters.

“If I can’t get an education, which is everybody’s right, what is the hope for the next generation?”