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$20M in education assistance left on the table for the mid-island region

Parksville, BC, Canada / 88.5 The Beach
$20M in education assistance left on the table for the mid-island region

NANAIMO — Despite awareness efforts, a federal assistance program offering financial help for education isn’t being taken advantage of in the mid-Vancouver Island area.

The Canada Learning Bond opens a no-fee Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) for those who fall below the poverty line in Canada. It deposits $500 in the account when it’s opened and $100 a year until a child is 15, offering up to $2,000 for education at any post-secondary institution across Canada. The Canada Learning Bond doesn’t require families to match contributions.

According to statistics offered by Vancouver Island University, more than 9,900 eligible youth and their families haven’t taken advantage of the Bond, leaving nearly $20 million in unused financial assistance.

“This is a challenge we see right across our region,” said William Litchfield, associate vice-president of university relations with VIU. Since 2012, VIU has campaigned on behalf of the learning bond to raise awareness about it and hopefully enroll more students in post-secondary education across Canada.

“If kids, by the time they’re in Grade 5, know they have a bank account or an RESP set up for them to go to post-secondary, they’re four times more likely to go. Eighty per cent of all jobs on Vancouver Island will require some form of post-secondary education in the future. If kids are left out of that opportunity and people aren’t engaging them at a young age as to what they want to be…how are they going to be able to get the jobs to support their family and break some of these cycles of poverty?”

Litchfield said there are numerous reasons as to why the learning bonds haven’t been taken advantage of, including a lack of awareness and a lack of trust.

“If someone says ‘I’m going to give you $2,000 for your education, no strings attached,’ it’s a little confusing as to why someone would do that.”

Trish Garner, the community organizer at the BC Poverty Coalition, said it’s also a matter of available time for impoverished families.

“Most poor people in B.C. are actually working, often more than one minimum wage job, trying to make ends meet. They barely have time to spend with their kids and family, let alone thinking beyond that to investments in their kids’ future, as much as they would like to.”

To apply for the Canada Learning Bond, the child benefiting must have a Social Insurance Number and Garner said making sure the paperwork is correct can be arduous and time-consuming.

“You’re just really focused on where that next meal is coming from, how can I heat the home, pay the rent and keep my kids safe. It’s very much a survival mode of living in the present when you’re in such deep poverty.”

Information about the Canada Learning Bond can be found on VIU’s website and applications for the Canada Learning Bond can be found online.

Story written by Spencer Sterritt

On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit