Future uncertain for international exchange programs

December 5, 2017
ATA News Staff
Since 2010, the Alberta Teachers’ Association has administered the International Education Exchange Programs (IEEP) on contract to Alberta Education. ATA staff has learned that the contract will not be renewed when it expires on June 30. The program is under review and it’s not known what form it will take in the future.

Teacher and student exchanges administered by the Alberta Teachers’ Association could cease to operate beyond next year due to a funding cancellation by Alberta Education.

Staff of the Association’s International Education Exchange Program (IEEP) have been advised that Alberta Education will not renew its contract with the ATA once it expires on June 30, 2018.

“This decision is simply short-sighted,” said ATA president Greg Jeffery. “Exchange is an outward-looking collaborative activity that helps us learn about the international community and become active global citizens.”

The IEEP program manages exchanges for teachers and administrators to numerous overseas locations, including Australia, Germany, Spain, Denmark and the United Kingdom. It also offers high school student exchanges to Quebec, Germany, Japan, Mexico and Spain.

Under a partnership agreement reached in 2010, the Association administers the program under contract to Alberta Education.

Over the past 15 years, the program has extended exchange opportunities to teachers and students in more than 50 school districts. This year the teacher exchange program has participation from more than 20 districts and the student exchange program from more than 15.

While details remain sketchy, it appears that the department intends to download the responsibility and costs of the international exchanges to individual school districts and participants, Jeffery said.

“The Association has communicated to Alberta Education that it’s willing to continue the partnership, particularly as it relates to teacher exchanges, but so far there are no indications of any substantial progress toward a solution,” Jeffery said.

In a prepared statement provided via email, Education Minister David Eggen said Alberta Education is working with the ATA, school boards and other government bodies to review the model used to deliver exchange programs.

The government is looking to create a new governance model that will allow the department to co-ordinate certain exchange programs provincially while collaborating with school authorities to take on key operational functions, he said.

“While the roles and responsibilities within the exchange programs might look different, the ATA’s role has not yet been defined. We value their input and experience as we proceed with this review,” Eggen said.

Eggen also said the government values intercultural understanding and is committed to ensuring that teacher and international student exchanges continue.

Applications being accepted

The funding decision was communicated verbally to program staff in mid-October. Since IEEP is contractually obligated to continue operation until the end of the current school year, it will continue to seek, accept and process applications for exchanges that would begin after July 1. However, potential participants should be aware that the Association can’t promise continuing support for applicants heading out on new exchanges beginning or extending past the expiry of the contract, Jeffery said.

The IEEP partnership was established in order to save the program when Alberta Education was making budget cuts. In subsequent years, the Association has grown the program using its communication and outreach capacity and experience with teacher exchanges operated by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and Education International.

Jeffery reiterated the value of such exchanges: “When exchange students, teachers and principals are immersed in other cultures and education systems, they are not simply ambassadors showcasing the quality of Alberta teachers or our province’s education system on the world stage, they return to the province positioned to think critically and integrate their body of international educational experiences into making our province and its education system better for all.”

The impending cancellation of the IEEP partnership will not affect the Association’s commitment to Project Overseas, Masulita Uganda and Change for Children Guatemala, all of which the Association supports in conjunction with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

For more information
Anyone with questions about the status of the programs can contact Alberta Education at 780-427-7219.