For the past two months, Thirugnanasambanthar Thirukkumaran has been working as a full-time volunteer teacher at West Hill Collegiate Institute, awaiting the arrival of his teaching certificate.
Without him, his 11th and 12th graders would not have a regular chemistry teacher. Despite this, he was denied a teaching certificate by the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) last month for not having recognized university degrees.
“It’s a kind of discrimination, for me,” said Thirukkumaran, who has been teaching students for two decades. This is currently his main source of income.
Thirukkumaran says he went back to school at the age of 43 to get his bachelor’s degree in education.
“[The OCT] I should appreciate that and be supportive – instead they push me away.”
Advocates say situations like Thirukkumaran highlight a problem in Ontario’s education system that allows teacher candidates with international educations to fall through the cracks, despite a teacher shortage caused by retirements and COVID-19.
According to OCT estimates, fewer than 400 early-career graduates across Ontario were unemployed and available for teaching jobs in 2021, compared to the peak of the teacher surplus in 2014, when more than 7 700 were unemployed.
According to documents from World Education Services, a non-profit organization that assesses international credentials of students and immigrants in the United States and Canada, Thirukkumaran has two accreditations in chemistry from Sri Lanka and Australia, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. and a graduate degree in Canada.
Thirukkumaran, who arrived in Canada in 2012 and is now a permanent resident, says the two have been accepted by Ontario Tech University – where he graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 2020 – and York University, where he studying for a master’s degree in science. .
It was demoralizing to know that a passionate and “overqualified” educator like Thirukkumaran cannot be financially compensated for his hard work, said West Hill principal Trevor Bullen.
“It seems that there are decisions [made] about certain countries and the validity of their degrees,” Bullen said.
“We need to talk about allowing not just him, but anyone else who comes to this country, to do their best and want the opportunity to give back in the work of their chosen field.”
A statement from OCT spokesman Andrew Fifield said privacy laws prevent the college from sharing information about specific applicants.
However, he said that completing a professional teacher education program in Ontario does not guarantee that a candidate will obtain certification. Refusals are granted if a candidate does not meet the bar for criteria such as academic credentials, teacher training and language proficiency requirements.
“By law, these requirements must be met by all applicants, regardless of labor market trends,” Fifield said.
“We cannot assess applications based solely on teaching experience.”
In practice, it’s not uncommon for foreign-educated applicants to be at a disadvantage when applying for their teaching license, said Karen Littlewood, president of the Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Illinois. Ontario.
Getting candidates to come forward is the hardest part.
“They’re very reluctant to say anything or do anything for fear of being left out of the system,” Littlewood said.
“There are many qualified people around the world who would be assets in our buildings. When it appears that discrimination exists, it quite often does.”
The disadvantage also often appears in the job search process. In 2021, teachers new to Canada who were educated elsewhere and then licensed in Ontario reported the highest unemployment rate among licensed teachers in the province at 37%, according to the OCT.
But despite these numbers, uncertified teachers with only high school diplomas have been substitute teachers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They either volunteer or they work as unskilled and are paid much less, with no job security or health or dental benefits,” Littlewood said.
“Qualified people being refused a job does not make sense.”
Thirukkumaran says that while he is disappointed with the OCT’s decision, he intends to appeal through a litigator and with the support of Ontario Tech University. Its purpose is to prevent others from being caught in a similar situation.
For now, he is determined to continue teaching his 73 students until the end of the semester, to avoid disrupting their education on top of the damage from the pandemic.
“I can’t say I can’t come. Their grades, their studies and their future will be destroyed,” Thirukkumaran said.
“It’s not just the student. It’s his family, his future, and it’s also my satisfaction.”