Private language schools capitalize on pandemic while students struggle to subsist

A student from Turkey tells how a Canadian language school let her down under the pretext of the pandemic.
Sunday, 05 April 2020 16:47

If you want to get a decent foreign language training at this age of privatized education, you will very likely end up in one of the few countries where the market is most developed. But this comes quite costly. It will not be enough to pay for the already high fees if you are to learn English, for instance, in one of the sector’s leaders like the UK, Ireland, Australia, USA, or Canada. As a student, you should pay considerable amounts for visa, travel, and accommodation while struggling to survive in these expensive countries. 

Language skills are becoming more and more essential for white-collar workers, given the competitive jungle of the job market. If you are a wage earner with above-average income from a country with high unemployment and poverty rates (just like Turkey), you will most likely have to spend your years of savings for learning or improving your language skills abroad. Once you get there, however, several hardships await you in these ''prosperous'' countries. With the Corona pandemic, the difficulties became all the more explicit, disclosing what is behind the spectacular advertisements of ''study abroad'' by language education oligopolies.

Many students taking language education in one of these countries strive to subsist on a shoestring. Most of the time, they have to find accommodation ''opportunities'' (to phrase it in typical marketing rhetoric) either in a homestay or in cheap sites like basements, garages, and the like. With the pandemic, circumstances have deteriorated even further, said a Turkish student in Canada to soL news. According to the student, most language schools refuse to refund students for the interrupted training after the closure of schools in the country in parallel with the global trend. Alternative options offered by schools, on the other hand, come with extra costs, which are again burdened over students. 

Last week, some language schools in Canada and the USA offered their students an option to freeze programs. Because the option does not cover the prospective visa, travel, and accommodation costs, students have to choose between makeshift online courses and paying extras for a postponed education. The UK and Australia branches of the same language training companies do not even provide a freezing option unless the student fulfills numerous eligibility conditions. While online classes become a new opportunity to capitalize on for private schools, some language students reside in places without any internet connection. 


A Turkish student in Canada for learning English spoke to soL about the current conditions:
''I am an engineer. I spent my ten years worth of severance pay for learning English here. Now the school does not refund me under no circumstances and offers us off-grade online courses to show that they continue education. They slur over students’ complaints and try to get rid of us by graduating as many as possible.''


''Many teachers are being fired as well by these corporations. Our teachers are usually working people from different parts of the world, and quickly after the closure determination of the government, they began to get fired one by one. I have many colleagues from various countries like Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Brasil, Mexica, France, and several others. We all share the same experience. Because rents are very high in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, many of my colleagues stay in basements. Some do not even have an internet connection, and they cannot attend online courses too. It is not easy to cook at home because homestay subletters don’t let them. It is very costly to order food online. Finding a job is impossible nowadays, and it looks like this will continue for months. Some of my colleagues had to ask for financial support from their families, but the low exchange rate is a real issue. Some got kicked out of their places by landlords. As if it is not risky enough, they have to look for a new place amidst the pandemic. Health services are very costly in Canada if you are not insured. On the other hand, my Turkish insurance company said they would not cover any treatment related to COVID 19 and advised me to follow the announcements of the Canadian government. Nothing so far! Many of us have to wait in the hope of getting a refund and returning to our countries. As flights are canceled, we have to wait here till they are reopened with a little money and quite a bit of anxiety. I don’t even mention the discrimination…''

As the pandemic continues to spread, online education proved a new commercial opportunity for private education companies. Language schools capitalize on the now obligatory status of online courses, cutting off labor costs and increasing profits. Meanwhile, many students, feeling cheated, strive to get by until finding a way home.