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Oliver Reedman, 3, walks the picket line Tuesday with his dad Nigel outside of Vancouver where he teaches at Technical Secondary School. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Oliver Reedman, 3, walks the picket line Tuesday with his dad Nigel outside of Vancouver where he teaches at Technical Secondary School. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Foreign students fear B.C. teachers’ strike will disrupt studies Add to ...

Yujia Chen is desperate to get back to class. The international student from China, who has been in Vancouver for the past 21/2 years to study at Windermere Secondary School, says she’s particularly excited this year because she’ll be joining the school’s leadership program, which is geared toward community-minded students like herself.

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“I really want them to solve this problem,” she says, referring to the B.C. teachers’ strike that is threatening to postpone the start of classes beyond its scheduled Sept. 2 start date.

“I really want to go back to school. I can’t wait to start our school’s leadership program.”

A meeting will take place Wednesday in Victoria between Education Minister Peter Fassbender, union president Jim Iker and the government’s negotiator Peter Cameron.

 

(Read up on the issues and history of the education labour dispute with our explainer Q&A.)

Officials at several school districts say only a handful of international students have cancelled their plans to study in B.C. due to the labour dispute. But if the stalemate drags on, it could do irreparable damage to the province’s reputation abroad as a good place for international students to study, says Patti Bacchus, the chair of Vancouver School Board.

“We’re known throughout the world as providing first-rate education programs in a stable, reliable, safe place,” Ms. Bacchus says. “Having students arrive to no classes is not going to help that brand.”

Teachers launched a full-scale strike in June after staging several weeks of rotating walkouts and other job action. While the two sides have inched closer on the issue of wages, they remain at odds over certain key issues such as non-wage benefits and class size and composition.

International students pay tuition fees to study in B.C. schools, and thus generate revenue that increases the quality of learning for local students as well, Ms. Bacchus said.

So far, fewer than 10 students have withdrawn from the Vancouver School Board’s international-student programs due to the possibility that classes won’t begin on time, Ms. Bacchus said. Most of the students have arrived and are participating in orientation activities.

“They’re here, and like everyone else in B.C., waiting to see if they’ll actually be starting class,” Ms. Bacchus said.

Some parents are concerned about whether the job action could prevent students from receiving full credit for the school year, Ms. Bacchus said. “We expect that the school year will be a full credit year, but we’re all waiting to see how soon this can be resolved,” she said.

Barry Bunyon, the director of Langley School District’s international-student program, says only a handful of the 700 students who were planning on joining the program this year have withdrawn due to the strike.

If classes don’t resume in the second week of September, the district will offer daytime activities for elementary-school children and newly arrived international students, Mr. Bunyon said.

“I’m also concerned that this might do some damage to our reputation overseas, as we try to attract students in the future,” he said.

Doug Strachan, a spokesman for Surrey Schools, says the district is working hard to dispel rumours and clear up misinformation.

“We’re getting calls from some of our overseas agents saying they heard that it’s been confirmed that we won’t have school for several months,” said Mr. Strachan. “So we’re dealing with rumours and a lot of questions, but so far everything else seems to be pretty much on track in terms of the number of students we expected to be here.”

 

A spokesperson for the BCTF declined comment on Wednesday’s meeting, noting that the organization is continuing to operate under a media blackout agreed to by the parties.

In a weekend speech to a teachers’ conference in Kamloops, Mr. Iker said he had had many discussions with Mr. Cameron on how to move forward.

“The hold out has been the government and their unwillingness to enter full-scale negotiation,” Mr. Iker said.

Mr. Fassbender had convened the meeting, said a spokesman.

 

With a report from Ian Bailey

Follow on Twitter: @alexposadzki

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