Canada

B.C. wants this veteran English teacher to prove she knows the language. She feels targeted because of her African ancestry

When recruiters from British Columbia came to Toronto looking for teachers, Kamey Munsamy was pleased to find her skills in high demand.

It was 2018 and cuts to education by the Ford government had Munsamy thinking a change might be a good idea, even though she loved teaching in the city of Toronto, where she felt her perspective as an immigrant from South Africa was valued.

But once she decided to accept a job offer in Vancouver, Munsamy got an unpleasant surprise.

The B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch, the provincial body that certifies teachers’ qualifications and allows them to work in the province, said she could only continue working in the province if she took an English language proficiency test in the midst of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am devastated and demoralized,” she said. “My major is English literature.”

There is no question that Munsamy could pass the proficiency test the regulatory body is asking her to complete. Her first language is English. She’s fully qualified to teach in English in both Ontario and Manitoba. Her bachelor of education was completed in Manitoba.

But a B.C. regulation set up by the independent B.C. Teachers’ Council states that teachers who took their teacher education in another jurisdiction can be required to take a test, which costs them as much as $400, before becoming fully qualified in B.C.

Munsamy is currently working at her new job in special education with the Vancouver School Board under her Ontario teacher’s licence — a provision that expires after 20 days. On top of the extra planning she needs to do because of COVID-19, the test seems less like a reasonable check on her qualifications, and more like a barrier preventing her from doing her job, she said.

“I’m trying to get into a testing centre but I have to go and spend so much money — it’s really onerous,” she said. “I was placed in a wonderful school in Vancouver. I’m working — and whether I continue to work, I don’t know.”

“I’m feeling denigrated, degraded and targeted because of my African ancestry, of which I’m very proud,” she said.

B.C. has faced a teacher shortage in the province on account of a Supreme Court of Canada decision that granted the union rights to negotiate class sizes in the province. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation maintains there are still teacher positions that need filling in the province, and that the COVID-19 pandemic should make class sizes even smaller.

The requirements for teacher licensing in B.C. require that candidates be proficient in English, and that officials can require candidates to take a proficiency test if they took their teaching certification outside of B.C. or, at their discretion, if they believe there is another reason the person may not be proficient in English.

Exceptions are made for individuals who studied in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland or the United Kingdom, or another country where English is the only language of instruction.

In an emailed statement, the B.C. Ministry of Education declined to comment, saying it does not comment on individual licensing applications.

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