Language schools in jeopardy after virus outbreak

The country’s largest association of language schools, Languages Canada, is warning that without major financial assistance, a significant number of its members are likely to close — and possibly never reopen.

The language education sector generates $22-billion in revenue every year, with hundreds of thousands of international students coming to Canada prepare themselves for eventual enrolment college and university programs.

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“We felt the impact of COVID-19 a little earlier than everyone else, as practically all of our clients are international students who come to Canada to learn English or French. Many students have left the country,” said Gonzalo Peralta, executive director for Languages Canada. “Currently, all of our private sector members’ classes are empty, almost all of their employees have been laid off, and the bills keep piling up. We need substantial emergency help before it is too late and we have to rebuild everything from scratch.”

Victoria has five private sector schools.

Apart from tuition, the students contribute to the local economy through accommodation, tourism and transportation.

At least one school, Global Village Victoria, an independently owned and operated language institution, has adapted to the changing circumstances by taking all their courses online.

“I am proud of my team, who worked around the clock to create a live virtual curriculum for our students,” said Paula Jamieson, president and CEO of the school, which celebrates its 20th anniversary on April 1.

“But the virus hit at a horrible time. Normally spring is the start of student bookings, with our peak enrollment in July. With nobody able to travel here due to the pandemic this year, bookings have dried up.”

Jamieson has had to lay off up to 30 of her casual staff and to downsize her administrative staff, leaving a staff of 30 to serve the 150 students still enrolled in courses.

The loss of students will also translate into financial hardship for the many Victoria families that offer homestay for foreign students.

While she expects her business to weather the storm — “we will do what we need to do to survive” — she anticipates that it could take five years to climb back to where business was before COVID-19 hit.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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