Jamaican fights for dreams in Canada
Courtesy Jamaica observer
BY KIMONE THOMPSON Sunday Observer senior reporter
Sunday, December 14, 2008
AFTER eight years teaching at a primary school in eastern Jamaica, Rhona Allen wanted a career change.
She was interested in law and since her mother and siblings were already residing in Canada, in 1996 she headed north to study.
But life in the city of Calgary in the western province of Alberta has been far from the pretty picture she imagined. Although she has a diploma in secondary education (English) from Shortwood Teachers’ College, she has been unable to get a “decent” job and has not yet been able to complete a first degree because of what she describes as a combination of indifference and ignorance within the Jamaican education system and a high level of racism and nationalism in Canada.
“I got fired from good jobs because I didn’t have the qualifications. They would say ‘we don’t have any problems with you or with how you work but you just don’t have the qualifications’. So I had to take low-class jobs when I could do better,” Allen told the Sunday Observer. “I can tell you that generally that is what happens to immigrants here. Doctors have to drive taxis and pack meat in factories or clean offices and wipe hospital floors. It is such a national problem that the federal government is trying to address it, but the thieves are always in the way and it is really not changing.”
At the heart of her dilemma is that she hasn’t been able to get the acceptable equivalent transfer credits from the University of Calgary where she was enrolled. The university insists Allen did not complete high school since she does not have A-levels and only agreed to grant her a year of transfer credits towards a BA in English. She would, therefore, have to complete three years of the university’s programme.
Documents filed by the attorney general in response to claims brought by Allen in the Supreme Court of Jamaica in 2001, note that coursework proposed by Calgary was “no higher than she already completed at Shortwood Teachers’ College and the said Calgary programme fails to fully measure up to the equivalent of her teacher’s diploma as it lacks depth and breadth”.
The diploma Allen holds is the new diploma offered by the Ministry of Education. It comprises about 2,245 hours of coursework at the post-secondary level. The degree programmes offered by Calgary however, are less than 1,500 hours of post-secondary work, compared to the minimum 1,800 hours required to matriculate into a Jamaican degree programme.
“From the evidence presented,” read part of the AG’s response, “there are serious and debilitating misperceptions about the categorisation of the New Teacher’s Diploma both locally and internationally and the local authorities must take steps to remedy the resulting situation from these misperceptions. Further, the said teacher’s diploma being at least 2,245 hours of post secondary coursework, must be accorded the same status as any programme of similar status taken anywhere else and particularly in North America. Any assessment showing less status must be rejected by the Jamaican authorities.”
This was in response to a suit filed by Allen in which she claimed she was a victim of a massive North American scam held in place by the ineptitude of local authorities.
“In the school year of 1995-1996, the Ministry of Education negligently approved my taking a course of study at the University of Calgary in Canada leading to a BA in English. The ministry informed me that the said university appears on its approved list of universities, meaning that the said university is of comparable standard to university in Jamaica,” she said in the document. “I, therefore, went on a leave of absence from my job for three years. I was to return to my post on September 1, 1999. In this year, 2001, I am still in Calgary being required to complete coursework ranging from Jamaican fourth form to sixth form, only, Canada calls this level of studies a degree. Jamaica seemingly approves while demanding way more from students here. This is unjust and unlawful.”
The matter was set for mention on April 16, 2002 and Allen flew from Canada to attend court here but there was no representation from the Attorney General’s office. Allen said she was unable to fly back because of the expense involved and so “nothing came of it”.
Today, 12 years after first enrolling at the University of Calgary, Allen has still not been awarded a degree because she refuses to accept the one year of transfer credit and the university in turn refuses to offer anything more. Determined to fulfil her educational goals, she is now pursuing a BA in Management at the University of Lethbridge, a programme for which she said she received more transfer credits than were being offered at the University of Calgary.
“Now I’m in school and I’m an old woman. Sometimes I get some grades, I just have to laugh,” Allen said.
She does laugh and would sound merry, but for a slight hollowness.
“In the meantime, all things Jamaican are scoffed at in Calgary and other parts of North America and my pocket is emptied while the university has no intention of giving me my degree even though I have completed all requirements,” she said.
But she’s no stranger to fighting and says she is prepared to do so until she gets what is rightly due her.
In the early 1990s, she took the Ministry of Education in Jamaica to court so that her 11- year-old son could sit the Common Entrance exam. She won her case and her son passed his exam.
“Right now I’m fighting off the [Canadian] government for my citizenship because they are insisting that I do fingerprints but that’s not what the law says,” she told the Sunday Observer.
In addition to that, Allen is also putting legal pressure on a high school district in Calgary for having expelled her daughter “without due cause”.
“When you’re black, it’s like you have 40 handicaps in this country but I’m not going to let them walk over me,” she said. “The one thing that has happened that makes me not regret coming here (Canada) is the way people there (Jamaica) just shoot people and kill them. The crime is what makes me not even want to come home sometimes [because] even my kids’ father was shot and killed,” she said.