The trials of coming to teach in Ontario

Algonquin3MentorEdit.jpgBy Susan Hickman
From SCAN's Print Edition

Mentor Marguerite Donohue with newly certified teacher Veronique Chetty.

When Veronique Chetty arrived in Canada from her homeland of the Seychelles, an archipelago of some 150 islands in the Indian Ocean east of mainland Africa, she expected her education would land her a teaching job in this country. In her late 20s, she had already earned a diploma in education from the Seychelles, and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. Plus, she had worked for six years as a teacher in her country.
“First I became a resident and a citizen and then when I started looking for employment, I was surprised to find I was totally wrong,” says Chetty, now in her late 30s. “I found out I had to have more credentials to work for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Everything had to be certified and assessed by government or regulatory bodies.”

Some trades and professions ─ for example health care, financial services, law and engineering ─ require a licence to practice in Ontario, and their respective regulatory bodies have various processes to assess academic credentials. The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration offers a wealth of information on this topic on their website.
According to the ministry, about 125,000 newcomers arrive in Ontario every year and most are highly trained. More than half of those arriving over the past two years have university degrees. But they struggle, like Chetty, to find the job that matches their skills and training.
Chetty believed, before she left her country, that there was a high demand for teachers in Canada.
“The impression I got was that it would be an easy process.”
In fact, it was anything but.
The Seychelles took a long time to forward the documents she needed for evaluation. “It took about a year,” recalls Chetty. “I would have saved many months if I had known I had to go to a regulatory body at the start, or if I’d known what documents I needed from my country. I had my degree and my diploma but not what I needed to be certified.”
What Chetty needed were such documents as a letter confirming she had never been suspended, or that she was efficient in English or French.
“I definitely didn’t need to take a language test,” says Chetty. “Instruction in Seychelles is in English or French. I find a lot of what we go through in order to be successfully evaluated and employed is repetitive. It’s unfair and time consuming.”
Although Chetty managed to find short-term contracts in private schools, the “nomadic” life of moving from school to school left her feeling unstable and physically tired.
“It’s a waste of human resources,” says Chetty in frustration. “I could be a great contributing member to the Canadian education system. This is not a stable way to build a career.”
Fortunately for Chetty, she found her way to Algonquin College and specifically to a mentorship program called COMP. Under the program, employees at Algonquin, SCO Health Service and Royal Ottawa Health Care Group volunteer to introduce internationally educated professionals to the Canadian workplace.
Marguerite Donohue, executive dean of academic development at Algonquin, joined the program last September, and was matched with Chetty.
“I feel it’s an important contribution to our community,” says Donohue, who has been involved in leadership mentoring in the past. “It also helps me to meet people from other countries, learn about other cultures and share my experience.”
As a mentor, Donohue met Chetty weekly and helped her set goals, respond to such cultural issues as whether or not you can raise your voice in a Canadian classroom (something that is acceptable in Chetty’s homeland) and how to approach an interview situation in Canada.
“I have developed a real appreciation for the challenge that newcomers have when they come to our country and try to find employment,” says Donohue. “We have barriers. I believe we are making progress, but there are many things we could do better.”
Chetty credits Donohue for helping her in many ways. “As a professional, she was right on target with the difficulties I had. She had a sense of what a teacher’s needs are and how to bridge the gaps.”
Chetty was finally certified last December and is working at Algonquin as a receptionist. In February, she started a part-time teaching contract at the college and hopes to find permanent, long-term employment teaching in the near future.
In February, the provincial government announced it was investing $1.6 million in the National Capital Region to break down barriers and help internationally trained newcomers find work in their field sooner. The NCR initiative will be led by Algonquin College, Catholic Immigration Centre, Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks and Ottawa Community Loan Funds. It will provide newcomers with the occupation-specific training they need to work in various professions.
Last November Chris Bentley, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, said “We want newcomers to our province to be able to quickly pursue their chosen careers and strengthen our communities.”.
The McGuinty government has launched a multilingual website with program information in 21 languages as well as English and French, and has committed more than $34 million for at least 60 “bridge-training” programs to help immigrants improve their language skills, prepare for exams and find faster tracks into their chosen fields.
“Global Experience Ontario” is a provincial program offering internationally trained accountants, architects, geoscientists, teachers, veterinarians, and a wide range of health care professionals as well as many others learn how to qualify for professional practice in Ontario.
Bill 124, the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, was passed in December to ensure a fair, open and transparent process for registration in regulated professions for internationally trained individuals.
Other provincial government initiatives include:
• an internship for the internationally trained, which places those with at least three years international work experience for six-month paid assignments in the Ontario Public Service and Crown agencies;
• a foreign-trained professionals loans program to help with assessment, training and examination costs; and
• a $50 million investment in English-as-a-second-language and French-as-a-second-language classes for adult immigrants, including occupation-specific language training.
Says Mike Colle, citizenship and immigration minister, “Our prosperity depends on the successful integration of newcomers. We will continue to break down barriers for [them].”

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