LACK OF CHILD CARE PUTS STUDENTS IN A BIND

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By Roman Khazin

A Ryerson student and father of three may be forced to miss his next exam if he can’t find a babysitter.

“I’m supposed to write my make-up exam for my Finance 300 [course], and now I have no idea what I’m going to do,” said John Wilson, a continuing education student. This will be his third attempt to take the exam.

Unable to find child care, Wilson sometimes leaves Isaac, his 22-month-old baby, and Ryme, his seven-year-old son, in the hands of his 13-year-old son, Seiom, so he can attend his evening and Saturday classes.

And while Wilson, who is pursuing a business management II certificate from the Chang School of Continuing Education, feels safe leaving his baby with Seiom, the busy schedule and added stress is hurting his grades.

“I take care of him until he goes for a nap and by that time, I’m completely burnt out,” he said, adding that he dropped a course and considered dropping another because he struggled with his schedule.

If Ryerson offered child care during his evening and weekend classes, his problems would be solved, Wilson said.

“If I had the convenience of driving to school, bringing him to daycare and being able to spend my day at Ryerson, I would definitely take advantage of it,” he said.

The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) held an open forum about child care on Sept. 30 at Oakham House. Other than CESAR, other participants in the forum included the Early Childhood Education departments at Ryerson and George Brown College, the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, and the Graduate Students’ Association.

The event gave Ryerson students who need weekend and evening child care a chance to voice their needs and concerns.

It also marked the launch of CESAR’s campaign for increased access to child care at Ryerson, which will advocate the return of extended-hours.

Hoping to get feedback from students like Wilson, CESAR held the forum to “hear what parents have to say and what they want to come out of this campaign,” said Mohammad Ali Aumeen, CESAR’s VP of programming and outreach.

But it’s not just continuing education students scrambling for child care.

Undergraduate students who attend day classes are also hard-pressed to get the service on campus.

The Early Learning Centre (ELC), located in Kerr Hall West and run partly by early childhood education students, is open on weekdays at 8 a.m. and closes at 5:30 p.m. before most evening continuing education classes begin. And with only 54 spots available for children and about 200 names on the waiting list, parents may wait as long as two years to get a spot.

According to Rachel Langford, the long wait is caused by the ELC’s inability to expand due to lack of space.

“Space is a major issue and the university has particular priorities on how to use that space,” she said.

From 1997 to 2001, the ELC offered extended- hours child care, with the added benefit of a ‘pay what you can’ service, asking parents to pay between $3 and $10 an hour. But the extended-hours were discontinued after attendance dwindled, according to Langford.

“Our experience with evening care is that not many students use it,” she said.

Aumeen said that the next step in the CESAR campaign is talking with Ryerson and the Chang School of Continuing Education to make extended hours child care available to students. He also said that both are receptive to the idea.

President Sheldon Levy said the university is open for discussion, but added that for the service to exist it would have to be cost effective.

“I think it has to be done in a way that doesn’t ask programs to subsidize it,” he said. “It has to be essentially cost-neutral.”

Cost-effective or not, Ryerson students aren’t the only people affected by the lack of extended hours child care, said Aumeen, pointing out that some university applicants might choose to attend another more parent-friendly school.

“How many students said, ‘I’m not going back to school next semester. I’m not going back to school to upgrade my education for my job because there is no child care,’” he said.

Even some professors have an interest in extended child care. Dyoni Smith, an interior design professor who teaches Chang School classes, has to leave her two daughters with their grandparents when she teaches in the evening and and on weekends.

Smith said she is grateful to have this alternative for her young daughters.

“We’re just lucky that they live around here, but they’re aging, and it’s difficult for them to look after a 3-year-old,” she said. “If I could bring them into Toronto they would just be without me for the three hours that I lecture.”

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