Renewing Toronto’s ESL Programs

Download the executive summary or full report in PDF format.

Executive Summary

Immigrants to Toronto arrive in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Census data shows that the Greater Toronto Area has more foreign-born residents as a percentage (42%) of its population than any other city in Canada. Immigrants in the city are from approximately 170 countries speaking more than 100 languages. The percentage of immigrants in Toronto has increased steadily over the past years and still continues to grow. For this segment of our population, learning English is one of the keys to successful settlement and to becoming functioning and contributing members of our society.

With the increase in immigration to our city comes the increased demand for English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. But has Toronto kept pace? Are our ESL programs meeting the needs of our new immigrant population or the needs of the larger society? Evidence indicates that we are not making the grade.

Governments, school boards, community agencies and concerned educators have spent decades in developing programs and support structures to meet the needs of immigrant children and adults. However, even though our immigrant population and the need for English language programs are increasing, we are not only witnessing a lack of progress in this area, but also are actually losing ground. Over the past years, ESL programs and support structures for immigrants have been steadily eroding through deep and damaging cuts. The long-term costs of failing to address this critical situation are too great. The need is urgent. Now is the time to act or face even more pressing challenges in the years ahead.

Renewing Toronto's ESL Programs...charting a course towards more effective ESL program delivery report provides a comprehensive overview of ESL programs at the elementary, secondary and adult levels and examines the difficult realities faced in delivering ESL programming in Toronto. It identifies gaps between the current situation and effective ESL program delivery and identifies core principles and proven ideals which create a framework for successful programs. Finally, the report recommends actions that will narrow the gap between current realities and that ideal effective framework.

Among the many challenges identified in the report are the following:

  • A lack of a comprehensive government policy on ESL
  • A lack of adequate and protected funding for ESL programs and support services
  • A lack of a consistent student assessment and placement
  • A lack of appropriate testing of ESL students
  • A lack of adequate and appropriate training of all teachers to deal with immigrant students
  • A lack of effective support structures that enable community and family involvement in the school system.

Given the present challenges, it is clear that the solutions to the current difficulties of Toronto's ESL system must be as multi-faceted as the issues and problems themselves. It is equally clear that any and all solutions must be founded on a principle-based practice that is adequately resourced and supported. Based on best practices and research in the field of ESL and education, the report distills the following set of eight principles, which are fundamental to the establishment of effective and successful ESL programs:

  • Equitable access for all who are in need of ESL programming.
  • An accountable and effective programming framework designed to meet student needs.
  • A thorough and consistent assessment process for all ESL students.
  • Placement that reflects ESL students' potential.
  • Specific ESL literacy components for those students facing literacy challenges.
  • Ongoing monitoring of individual student progress through appropriate assessment methods.
  • Inclusion of ESL methodology, cross-cultural and equity studies in all teacher education programs.
  • Support structures that enable the progress of ESL students through community and family involvement.

The report explores these principles in the context of the current ESL situation in Toronto and makes 39 recommendations that can help to bridge the gap between the current reality and the goal of effective and successful ESL program delivery. The recommendations, which address issues such as policy,  funding, assessment and placement, testing, teacher training and community support, are targeted at the Federal and Provincial governments, boards of education and organizations providing adult ESL programs. The recommendations in full are attached to this Executive Summary of the report.

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