Budget cuts threaten crucial migrant service
WHEN the Government cuts Wellington schools’ budget for community education next year, an award-winning service that helps new migrants from China will also come under threat.
Chinese Senior Community Inc runs a drop-in centre and free computer literacy classes, among other programmes supporting people in the struggle to settle.
Weekly computer classes, in Mandarin, promote online and face-to-face interaction for people who often find themselves socially isolated, according to founder Juping Zhou.
“They come to New Zealand to join their children, and to look after grandchildren, but tend not to integrate into mainstream society,” she says.
“These classes encourage them to come out and mix with others in the same situation.”
Chinese Senior Community’s work was recently recognised with a national Dynamic Learning Award, given to adult and community programmes that make an outstanding contribution to society.
Student Xingyun Chen came to New Zealand in 2006 to be close to her adult daughter, but with little English, she found it hard to adjust.
“I went back to China very often and would stay there for months, as not having many friends and not used to food here, life was too boring for me.”
She says learning to communicate online has helped her to settle in her new country.”I am now able to chat with friends using [instant messaging services] QQ and Skype. The physical distance is not an issue any more. I have another daughter in Canada, and we see each other very often through webcam.”
When not socialising, Mrs Chen uses online video classes and translation services to improve her English.
Fellow student Keqi Pang says since joining the class he uses his dial-up internet so often his friends are finding it hard to reach him on the phone. “[Using a] computer is now a big part of my life”.
The classes already have enrolments for 2010, but the Government’s plan to cut 80% from the adult education budget has left the programme facing an uncertain future.
Under current rules, schools which run night classes are also required to help pay for community-based learning programmes like Chinese Senior Community.
Wellington High School has given the group $5700 since the middle of last year, adult education co-ordinator Robyn Hambleton says.
From the end of the year, this obligation will cease.
While the school hopes to continue its support of the computer literacy classes, with just $3.2 million in funding available nationally for adult education (against previous annual budgets of $16 million), Ms Hambleton concedes such a prospect looks unlikely.
“[Groups such as this] will be forced to compete with each other for grants from charitable trusts and philanthropic organisations, an ever-diminishing pool in times of recession,” she says.
Juping Zhou says if the adult community education funding is withdrawn, popular classes like this will cease. “It is fully supported by ACE funding through local high schools.”
Labour’s tertiary education spokesperson Maryan Street says the Government is wilfully ignoring the fact that many community learning programmes, including courses in sign language and te reo, will not survive without schools funding.
“[Education Minister] Anne Tolley is clearly saying that strengthening social cohesion, a stated aim of community education, is no longer important.”
Mrs Tolley had not responded to queries by press time. A spokesman for Ethnic Affairs Minister Pansy Wong said she would not be commenting.