ESL: Adult Non-Credit English as a Second Language (ESL) Program

By Grant Reimer

The Toronto District School Board delivers one of the largest adult ESL programs in North America. Our learners are adults from around the world who have come to Ontario for a multitude of reasons: fleeing civil war, escaping religious and political persecution, family members looking to be reunited with their loved ones, investors and entrepreneurs desiring to establish themselves in our community. Many are refugees who have come to our programs only weeks, sometimes days after arriving from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe or Latin America.

In 2004-2005, approximately 31,329 learners registered in TDSB adult ESL classes. The program ran in 140 sites across the city – in schools, community centres, churches, public libraries, and in four stand-alone sites. Many of the programs were full, and in some areas there were waiting lists. Some classes were offered in partnership with organizations such as Skills for Change, JobStart, The Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, and the Salvation Army.

The four stand-alone sites are large ESL centres located in each of the four quadrants of Toronto. Bathurst Heights Adult Learning Centre serves the northwest; the Bickford Centre, the southwest; Jones Avenue Centre, the southwest and Overland Learning Centre is in the northeast.

Overland Learning Centre is located at 55 Overland Drive in the Don Mills area. Open six days and four nights a week, they offer all levels of English instruction from basic ESL literacy (for students who have not learned to read or write in their first language) to advanced programs including TOEFL. They have an ESL Job Search class to help learners understand the nuances of seeking employment in their new community: networking, preparing application forms, cover letters, and résumés; preparing for interviews. They also provide students with diverse academic programs, such as: TOEFL-ibt (Test of English as a Foreign Language-internet based test), and IELTS (International English Language Testing System), ESL Medical Terminology, and English for Academic Purposes as well as specialized classes in Pronunciation and Spelling. These courses help students to achieve their professional or academic goals such as attending post-secondary institutions or qualifying in their professions in Canada. Other classes helping learners gain employment are ESL Cashier Training, Computers, Sewing and Home Healthcare. Their Family ESL class is for mothers or other caregivers who need to bring their pre-school children to the Centre. The mothers learn English and develop a social network, while their kids get a head start attending an English school.

Another unique feature of Overland is that at the same site, the Board offers a full range of Community General Interest classes. Available to newcomer students as well as other adults and seniors in the neighbourhood. These classes help people to seek employment as well as develop leisure skills. Newcomers and Canadians who have been here for many generations come together in a singular desire to learn, creating a model microcosm of Canadian society.

Many of the Board’s adult ESL learners are parents of TDSB school children. The ESL program, in addition to helping students prepare for a high school, college or university education, citizenship and work, helps newly arrived families by giving them the supports and knowledge they need to help their children succeed in elementary and secondary schools.

CNM