Teachers are an internationally desirable Canadian export, thanks to the country's top-rated education system and the thousands who volunteer their time helping their colleagues overseas.
That effort has been dealt a blow as the federal government has severed a partnership with the Canadian Teachers' Federation, giving the axe to the program that has sent Canadian teachers abroad for more than 50 years.
The Canadian International Development Agency offered only a vague explanation for why it rejected the CTF's proposal to continue teacher-training and curriculum-development programs in Africa, Asia and parts of the Caribbean.
"… It was determined that the most recent Canadian Teachers' Federation proposal did not meet our aid effectiveness criteria," Emilie Milroy, a spokeswoman for CIDA, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. "While we receive many excellent proposals, we cannot possibly fund every one and we have to make difficult decisions."
The rejection came as a surprise to the union, which had been collaborating with CIDA on the new proposal for 18 months, said Mary-Lou Donnelly, president of the CTF.
"We were told that we were rejected not on the merits of the program, but on a technicality," she said. "We were shocked." Ms. Donnelly said it wasn't made clear to her what that technicality was.
The union, which has given notice to eight of its 10 staff who co-ordinate the international volunteering programs, is calling on Ottawa to override CIDA's decision.
"I'm devastated, I'm still trying to come to grips with it," said Carla Pieterson, 60, a retired teacher from London, Ont., who has been volunteering her time for 20 years.
Recently, Ms. Pieterson has been to Uganda where she helped teachers write and publish culturally-relevant books that their students could relate to.
"They write about AIDS and war and poverty, they write stuff that is real for the children's lives," she said.
"Pulling the plug like this … it's just a terrible waste of resources," said Derwyn Crozier-Smith, a 65-year-old retired teacher from Saskatoon who has been volunteering overseas for 20 years. "It just makes me angry that we would lose an important opportunity to share the expertise that Canadian teachers have."
Most recently, Mr. Crozier-Smith has been travelling to Asia and Africa to assess the outcomes and potential sustainability of teacher-training projects on those continents. The rejection means that Mr. Crozier-Smith had to cancel a trip he'd scheduled for March to visit a project in India.
"I know in India the project is getting so much closer to being self-sustaining; it's one of those projects that if you cut it off now, it's going to die," he said.
Ms. Milroy said the CTF can re-apply for funding "under current and upcoming competitive calls for proposals."