Episode #28: Special Edition – Access to Education

Home Is Here
Home Is Here
Episode #28: Special Edition - Access to Education

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education, in celebration of the role of education for peace and development.

In this special edition of Home is Here we take a closer look at the reality faced by refugee and non-status children and youth when it comes to accessing the education system in Canada.

The epsiode includes a conversation with doctor Tyler Correia, from the FCJ Refugee Centre Uprooted Youth program, which is focused on post-secondary education, and the testimony of a mother, who will tell us about her experience in the schooling of her children.


Welcome to our new episode of the FCJ Youth Network Home is Here podcast. All uprooted youth are welcome.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education in celebration of the role of education for peace and development. The right to education is enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration calls for free and compulsory elementary education. But the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted in 1989 goes further and stipulate that countries shall make higher education accessible to all. Access to primary education is widely recognized as a universal right by most nations, and in many countries. This right to education encompasses post-primary levels as well. However, this fundamental right is often not extended to refugees and non status youth.

Reports by the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies indicate that refugees, displaced and non status people often experience multiple barriers and disruptions in education. Following migration to Canada, refugee youth experience a considerable increase in family responsibilities and often find themselves having to become interpreters, service navigators and caretakers for their families, which reduces their time to advance in their education. Refugee youth also face difficulties in getting information and guidance about the Canadian education, and may find that their previous educational level is not properly recognized in Canada.

Youth also face important barriers to pursuing the education, particularly when it comes to tertiary education.

Hi, my name is Stefan, the Youth and Access to Education Coordinator at FCJ Refugee Centre, and today on Home is Here we will take a closer look at the reality faced by refugee and non status children and youth when it comes to accessing the education system in Canada.

We have a discussion with Dr. Tyler Correia from the FCJ Refugee Centre Uprooted U Program, which is focused on post-secondary education, and the testimony of a mother who will tell us about her experience in the schooling of her children.

For years, the FCJ Refugee Centre has been supporting refugee and non-status youth to integrate into the Canadian education system through our Access to Education programs, including our Uprooted U program, which focuses on post-secondary education.

Joining us today to talk about this, we have Dr. Tyler Correia, recent PhD graduate from York University’s Canada’s Social and Political Thought Program, and a key member of the FCJ Refugee Centre Uprooted U Program.

Stefan: Hi Tyler, welcome to our podcast. If I could ask you to briefly introduce yourself and the program that you supported here, and any insights that you have from the time that you’ve been hosting the program.

Tyler: Thank you, Stefan. Yeah, so my name is Tyler Correia. I’m a recent PhD graduate at York University, and my research has been sort of motivated by understanding migrant rights movements and other forms of activisms that take place in cities in particular, and especially where sort o formulations of citizenship are challenged by people on a grassroots or everyday level, in the ways that they’re like just, you know, developing relationships with each other, or working alongside each other, and living alongside each other. And in that sense, the very idea of citizenship is sort of getting in the way instead of providing them with an outlet to expand those kinds of organic connections that they’re making.

In that sense, the Uprooted U Program has fit within my life as an opportunity to involve myself with the community of Toronto. And in particular with people who have precarious status or who are just preparing the documentation for status, especially folks going through the refugee process or humanitarian compassion interviews. And really finding ways to continue engaging in a communal understanding of what does it mean to live in the city that we all live in.

So in our hopes that we can place something in front of everyone, we often spend a good amount of time talking about recent research in migration studies, just as something that can be a jumping off point for people talking about their own personal experiences, and so that we can have more practical discussions around, like the different documentations that might go into everyday living in Toronto, like preparing the documentation for a social insurance number and the like.

S.: Thank you so much, Tyler, and I believe congratulations would be in order. It would be Droctor now, that’s really nice, Tyler. And bouncing off of what you were talking about, about Uprooted U, I know you’ve been hosting and operated generously for the previous iterations. So what are some of the similarities you’ve seen in the iterations before, and erhaps some of the challenges you’ve noticed that have been consistent throughout those periods?

T.: You know, in hopes of maintaining a certain amount of continuity with the program, we really do stress the fact that Uprooted U, in its barest form, in its sort of shell,is a space for people who can engage with the simulated environment of a post-secondary education in migration studies, probably one that you would find in the first year of a university class.

Increasingly though, we found it much more relevant to the people who were involved in Uprooted U to be able to sort of expand some of our discussions into just more practical registers. And this was something that we noticed because a lot of people who were around, middle-aged or early middle-aged, were interested in joining the Uprooted U program alongside, for example, their ESL training and other kinds of training. And to have a space where they could work, but also where they could get more practical information about like, how do I attain housing, and how do I navigate the education system, having already been educated in my country of origin and now coming here, what kinds of possible training or credentials might I need…

So we’ve increasingly tried to open up space to have those kinds of conversations as well as having some kind of like academic reading to talk about.

S.: And I think it’s so interesting that, from what I gathered from what you were sharing, it’s like the emphasis is more on practicality and comprehension alongside this understanding of the education system and approaching post-secondary education regardless of that age and breaking into that system here in Canada.

T.: Absolutely. We really do like to be inclusive in the way that we approach a space like this by and large, because it’s also a space that can be made and remade by the people who participate in it, right? The kinds of things that they might be interested in discussing are relevant to this space. And so being able to take that into account has been very helpful.

S.: I dunno if this is something that you’re comfortable sharing, but, perhaps, maybe, if you identify as a newcomer or not, and maybe what drew you to migration studies as your area of studies.

T.: Yeah. You know. I am not a newcomer to Canada myself. I was actually born and raised in London, Ontario. But my father is a Portuguese immigrant, from the Azores Islands. Around the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of Azorean migrants, not necessarily refugees… Certainly they were fleeing the military conscription and the fascist government of Salazar, which was, you know, pretty long standing, but was about to fall. And they were really looking for better economic prospects, because the island had been not really generating new jobs for these young folks. So they came over in the 1960s.

I think the sort of formative experiences that he had, and the way that he imparted those experiences through storytelling was actually a very important part for me, taking on the work that I did. But it was also sort of an intellectual adventure to fall into migration, refugee studies. Something that was already very concerning to me because of the background, but could have very well expanded or developed in a number of different ways.

S.: Thank you so much for sharing, Tyler. And I think that’s so important that you mentioned how even as folks who might be first generation, second generation Canadian, it really doesn’t matter cause most of us have at some point in one of the previous generations who migrated to Canada.

So talking about the demographics of the people you’ve seen who you’ve worked with, particularly maybe in the Uprroted U programming, what has been that sort of demographic of people, like the recent immigration status or the economic and family background and social standings? What has been something that you’ve noticed there, and perhaps some barriers you’ve noticed that have been common mongst the populations you’ve worked with?

T.: I’m pretty convinced that, for the most part, the people who end up signing up for the Uprooted U course are people who are in the relatively early stages of trying to settle in Canada. They’re also often people who take on a great deal of responsibility for family care and also take on the financial responsibility of the people that might depend on them. So the sort of task that is in front of them is great. It is extremely difficult and they take on a great deal of responsibility. I have a lot of respect for the people who do that.

At the same time, what I find pretty consistently is that the migration system in Canada constantly demands an excessive waiting, just kind of waiting around, where the people that I encounter are really looking for an opportunity to begin working, you know, to get some of these really important things that they’re working on, settled as early as they can so that they can build from there.

One of the biggest challenges that they face is just how long the documentation or paperwork processes can take, or the fact that they’re waiting in a queue for a refugee hearing, for example, and that that’s all sort of time that they can’t be dedicating to something, which is why we have the Uprooted U program in the first place. It offers people some kind of outlet to start building communal relationships and start talking with each other and developing connections with each other instead of just having to wait.

S.: That’s definitely interesting that you mentioned that wait time, Tyler, because that’s something that we notice happen a little too often. And using that as like a segue from Uprooted U into the education system in on Ontario or post-secondary education, what would you say are some of the challenges that you’ve noticed, maybe as a teacher in the Uprooted program, but maybe also as a post-secondary student yourself with some of your peers perhaps, of folks who either may be refugees, non status or just general newcomers in accessing for secondary education in Ontario?

T.: Well, you know, I find it can be really upsetting that, a person who by every account, sort of accidentally, already has a basis to draw from in Canada… If they were born here, or if they were relatively lucky enough to immigrate relatively early on, or without a lot of the obstructions that we find, working in this particular kind of work… I find that those folks will end up making their way into university in greater numbers than some of the people that we have the opportunity to deal with on an everyday basis. And I think, being in that kind of position where you can see both, who’s just making their way into university, who’s making their way into, say, graduate schools, which are a step more difficult often and more competitive than just an undergraduate degree, are usually people who have a great amount of privilege to be able to take on that kind of research.

They’re extremely thoughtful and intelligent people regardless, but also potentially not more so than the people that we encounter on a daily basis in this work. And I find that can be really challenging, you know, being able to meet some very thoughtful, curious, motivated people who have to do a number of extra things to prove themselves before even having the opportunity to go to grad school in the first place.

On the other hand, having people who we interact with, we can also say that the fFCJ Refugee Centre it exists and it provides a lot of different kinds of support. So there have been at least one or two people on my mind that I know of, who have uccessfully hurdled those obstacles, and have gone to do masters in social work, and have been very successful doing it, which is something that we can be very happy about, ery proud about in our small contributions to their success.

S.: Yeah, definitely. I agree that as many as the challenges are, we should also be stopping to celebrate the successes and positive stories that we see along the way. And pulling back on your point about some of the challenges that you were mentioning, say some people surpass those trials and get through all of those hurdles, but now that they’re actually in the post-secondary system, do you see any additional challenges or barriers that newcomers might face, like perhaps with language or the academic English levels? And then following that, with all of this lack of accessing post-secondary education in itself, how does that affect securing employment or those prospects?

T.: I’m convinced that, although academic English, which is kind of a language of its own, and the English language learning is something that a lot of newcomers will have to navigate as a challenge, I honestly don’t think it’s the obstacle that I’ve noticed a person face, by and large because a lot of the people who we end up working with end up taking very seriously the demand that’s placed upon them to learn English both quickly and well. So that’s something that I always keep in mind.

But I do absolutely see one of the particular and recurring challenges for anyone who’s going to be identified by the post-secondary education system, especially as an international student, is how massive the tuition is. I don’t know if a lot of domestic students or landed citizens in Canada recognize this, but oftentimes an international student’s tuition can be as much as four times greater than the average domestic at York University. I can tell you, as an example that this is absolutely the case, that most domestic students will pay around $5,000 or $6,000 a year, which is no small sum. But international students are paying 20, 25 [thousand], pretty expectedly. So if a person doesn’t necessarily have documentation that allows them to access the sort of domestic side, but they have to enroll as an international student, that can be a massive hurdle, a massive financial hurdle.

S.: Thank you, Tyler. We are going to pause for a short break and come back to this valuable discussion.

In our commitment to access to education and supported by funding from Maitre. We are able to host webinars explaining the school enrollment process at both elementary and secondary levels. You can find the webinar for the TDSB on our website, and we encourage you to register and attend our webinar on the TCDSB this Thursday, January 26th, 2023, starting at 4:00 PM with simultaneous Spanish interpretation. We hope to see you.

S.: Welcome back to The Home Is Here podcast. We are going to continue our conversation with Tyler.

There are a lot of interesting points that I wanna pull on from what you said. One being, going back to the after surpassing those challenges, a lot of them taking the courses and these programs pretty seriously, and taking that onus, and having that internal dialogue of meeting that requirement, and being on power with their peers… And I think, working with a lot of newcomers, and being a newcomer myself, and going into post-secondary education, that definitely is one of the overarching narratives that I’ve seen be a commonality with a lot of folks. So it’s interesting to know that that’s something that you have observed as well. And coming in terms to some of the things that will move into our next question in terms of changes that you would like to see in the education system, I think one of the important points you raised was the fees.

And I definitely agree that it’s astronomical fees for international students, but it’s at the same time for domestic students, it’s no laughing matter. It’s such a high cost for something that should be essentially available to all folks. So, in terms of that, perhaps we could expand on the fee structure itself nd that system in Ontario, but including that, bearing that in mind and, and moving on to other changes. What are some of the changes you think should take place in the education system, both in Ontario and across Canada, to improve the situation, not just for newcomers, but also perhaps for domestic students too?

T.: Yeah, Stefan, I think the point you raised is just so important. You’re absolutely right. If the average tuition for a domestic student is, you know, around $6,000 these days, I think it might be sort of creeping up towards seven or eight even, then that is likely very expensive for landed citizens. It is potentially prohibitive for anyone who doesn’t have a citizenship status, who can’t rely on their parents having been settled and working in Canada for a very long time. So even the sort of domestic student tuition is potentially going to prohibit access. In that sense, I think the, he practicalities of accessible post-secondary education are, for me, some of the largest and potentially easiest kinds of changes that a provincial or federal government can make.

If the federal government wanted to pilot some kind of program to subsidize tuition for each of the particular provinces that has the sort of purview to deliver that education, I think this is one of those moments where a great deal of solidarity can be generated between students who have been living in Canada for a long time, and students who are just getting themselves established or prospective students who are getting themselves established and want to involve themselves in the post secondary education system. In terms of a change, I think the change is actually really quite simple. It’s just either subsidizing or ensuring that education at the post-secondary level can be free. Something that I assume that the Canadian government is already kind of quite interested in, insofar as it makes your working population also more specialized than they already are. So what’s the problem? It seems quite easy,

S.: Definitely, Tyler, and I agree with you on that note. I think it’s just a matter of them making that decision to go completely fee fearless. And I I used to always be interested on this one point of how international student fees got doubled and quadruple in the past couple of years, when during, I believe it was before Harper, I’m not able to place whose government exactly. But they deregulated the international fee system. So the colleges and universities were able to choose whatever they wanted to charge.

But, optimistically looking forward to the future, Canda is very much capable of implementing systems like how Germany has, where you have your elementary secondary free, but also your post-secondary with certain exceptions here and there. But for the most part, accessing post-secondary education, not just for domestic, but also international students, is free. And I’m sure that Canda is very much capable of that.

But on a positive note, have you noticed from your experience and your time in the area of education, have you noticed some situations that have evolved in the recent years that are moving on a path to progression?

T.: In terms of positive developments, I want to hedge a little bit and be relatively cautious. Well, what I notice is that the post-secondary education system in particular exists in order to often meet emergent needs of a society. And in that sense, you can see certain avenues that are… Not the entire sort of post-secondary education ecosystem, not like universities in general, but very specific kinds of pathways that might lead you to a university degree or to a college degree… that are increasingly made accessible on purpose because it meets some kind of demands that our societies are now facing.

With baby boomer generations becoming more and more aged, there’s a much greater push to increase the pool of personal support workers. So that’s sort of an emerging industry or let’s say, an emerging sector of our economy in which it seems like a person who they wanted to, could find their way into that kind of training with the slightly fewer costs and the like. I see the same with a lot of social work and psychologically oriented fields, that it can be easier to get into these things because of different kinds of subsidization structures or scholarships and awards.

And then, we should still kind of ask ourselves one of two things. On the one hand, are these kinds of scholarships and awards or subsidization structures, are they made available to people regardless of citizenship status? I hope some of them are, but I know for sure that citizenship is often still one of the implied criteria for any kind of scholarship that a person might, apply for.

And then, on the other hand, we should ask ourselves what kind of responsibility does a Canadian society have in order to not exploit the work ofrecent migrants, right? What kind of society relies on newcomer populations to do the work that landed citizens don’t want to. They’re there. I think there’s an ethical quandary there that if you say to a Canadian citizen, you should be able to pursue whatever interest is of interest to you, what you say to a recent migrant, you know, you have to do the work that we expect of you. I think there’s still a pretty great disconnect or dissonance in terms of those two narratives.

S.: Definitely, Tyler, I agree with you on that. I think in this time of digital warfare, where media sort of pitting people against each other, it’s so important for us to have the right education out there and for people to be able to access that. I’m hopeful that moving forward we’re able to be those instruments of propagating the right information and also supporting folks in this advocacy for a more equitable system, especially with education, because I think education is something, if not a human right, it’s something very close up there. So I think that’s something important that we should all have hopefully within the next couple of years, if not sooner. And n that note of wrapping up the podcast for today, in your perspective, in an ideal world, what would accessing education look like for folks?

T.: Oh, wow. You know, in an ideal world, I think education would just be exceptionally more accessible with very few especially financial barriers. I think the education system, in particular post-secondary education and universities, in and of themselves, have a great responsibility to the societies that are increasingly global in their scope, to find ways of making themselves relevant to the people, local to them, but also, again, to the increasingly global societies that they’re involved in.

I can imagine an education system or a structure that does a lot more public activity, instead of just calling itself a public institution. I think the way that universities are organized often implies the sort of closed door policy that maintains certainly academic freedom, but potentially not the freedom to access academic kinds of research. And what I would hope to see and continue to see is the sort of opening of those kinds of doors to, to allow anyone to have, or access a lecture as they see fit, to take classes without having to sign a bunch of paperwork beforehand. So I can imagine that system could exist and I think it would be extremely edifying for the societies that it takes part in.

S.: Thank you so much, Tyler, for not only coming on the podcast and sharing your insights, but also giving folks listening to the podcast some hope for moving forward with the education and future plans here in Canada. And I wish you the very best with your future endeavors. And also thank you for being a consistent and constant educator and advocate for folks here in Canada.

T.: Thank you so much, Stefan.

Mother’s testimony:

I came to Canada in November, 2021. I entered as an international student and I brought my family with me. My husband hold a work permit, and I brought my two children that then, one was 13 years old and the other was six.

The first thing that I tried to do was enroll in them at the TDSB and I didn’t know exactly how, but I Googled it and then I checked the schools that were around the place where I live, and I found one that pertain to the TDSB. So it is pretty near, I found the telephone number. I called the school’s office, and the secretary who answered my call, she said that my children weren’t allowed to go to school for free because I’m an international student, and then I had to pay around $16,000 per child if I wanted them in public school.

So I was in shock because when I was in my home country, I did the research and I thought that international students could have their minor children in public school for free. She said it wasn’t the case and that I had to pay, or otherwise they couldn’t go to school, they couldn’t attend the school. So I went to the Refigee Centre and they contacted me with one person at the TDSB. I was emailing with this person. W were communicating, and she asked me for the basic requirements, the passport and my work permit, my student permit. And she said that my children could go to school only if I continued as being here as an international student, and my grades at college were over eight. If my grades were lower or I couldn’t afford to pay the next school year at college, they could deny the entrance of my children to school.

The rest of the school year I didn’t have any trouble. But two weeks before the school year was finished, the same person from the TDSB called me to say that she needed new paperwork for the new school year, although my study permit is valid until 2024. I decided to go directly to the TDSB offices and I talked to somebody there. The secretary was really nice and she apologized. She said that as an international student, I had the right to have my children at a school for free and that I shouldn’t be asked for so many requirements. And she said that my children were good to go to attend the school for the new school year. And actually she said they were going to be fine until 2024 when my study permit finishes too.

During summer vacation, I didn’t worry at all. I thought we were fine. But two weeks before the summer finished, the same person from the TDSB reached me through email asking me for the paperwork. And she said my study permit wasn’t enough and my work permit was not enough either, because it was a go up work permit. I explained to her that I had already gone to the TDSB offices that they told me I was fine. And she said that she didn’t care, that I needed present this paperwork to her anyways. So I decided to send my husband’s work permit and I sent her a last email telling her that if she continue asking me for extra requirements, I was going to present a complaint for harassment. Cause I had already gone to the TDSB offices and they told me that we were fine. I didn’t understand why she kept asking for more and more things.

I wanted to tell my story because I know how difficult it could be for newcomers, for immigrants and refugees to enroll children, when the schools or some specific persons ask us for things that they shouldn’t. So it is important to be informed and have the support of organizations like the Refugee Centre.

Thank you.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe and follow our Instagram account at FCJ Youth Network, and to stay up to date on all the latest fun events we are hosting, check out our page on the FCJ Refugee Centre website.

Thanks for listening to our podcast. Home is here.

Music in this episode:
Cases to Rest, by Blue Dot Sessions
Percussive Melodies, by Ketsa
Idle Ways, by Blue Dot Sessions