B.C.'s K-12 public schools facing international students crunch

Provincial officials on Friday officially acknowledged that the international education sector has been - and will continue to be - challenged by the COVID-19 lockdown, but the impact for public K-12 schools won’t be as large as the one facing post-secondary institutions.

B.C. education minister Rob Fleming said Friday that he will have a better idea of the situation in September, but agreed that issues like the existing ban on non-essential international visitors entering Canada will likely lead to a drop in the number of foreign students in B.C.’s K-12 schools.

“International education can continue to be a feature [in B.C. education], but it is going to be challenged,” Fleming said. “And we are going to work with districts that have those programs and make sure that, in areas where there may be a surplus of teachers because the number of international students have been reduced, these teachers will have an opportunity to teach domestic kids.”

There are about 23,000 international students - about 15% of the overall foreign student population in B.C. - in provincial K-12 schools, and the market had been a focus for the province in recent years as a potential growth industry capitalizing on B.C.’s desirability as a destination.

For colleges and universities, professors and other academics have already sounded the alarm on international education being heavily disrupted by COVID-related travel restrictions and lockdowns, with some experts predicting the system not returning to pre-COVID levels for years - if at all.

The news is even more dire for B.C.’s English-language schools targetting foreign students, as many institutions are facing the prospects of closing their doors forever. One such case is Global Village Vancouver, where school president/CEO Paul Maher announced Thursday it will cease operations by the end of June “in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on global travel and international education.”

However, Fleming said B.C.’s public school teachers will not face a similar threat of job losses even if the international students market evaporates.

“We have a situation where we have domestic enrolment growth in B.C., and that’s quite a lot different than 10 years ago,” he said. “So teachers are very much in demand, and they will continue to be in demand.

“What we are expecting in B.C. - and districts have planned for this in their budgeting exercises - is very strong domestic enrolment growth,” Fleming added. “We know there’s some vulnerability around international students and what might be possible. Districts are budgeting prudently in those situations; some of them are looking at a reduction but not an absolute collapse in international students, and I think that’s a realistic way to proceed.”