Thiru Thirukkumaran has been teaching chemistry at West Hill Collegiate Institute for three months, filling a gap after a teacher went on leave.

But despite being loved and respected by colleagues and students and praised by the principal as “one of the most hard-working and dedicated educators” he has met, Thirukkumaran is teaching at the Scarborough high school as a volunteer — without pay — after the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) denied his application for a license to teach.

Thirukkumaran, who is originally from Sri Lanka and is now a permanent resident of Canada, said he waited for a response from the OCT for 16 months after completing his Bachelor of Education at Ontario Tech University. He said many of his colleagues had been granted licenses within two or three months after applying.

The OCT’s rejection letter, sent in April and seen by the Star, said Thirukkumaran did not satisfy the requirements on the basis that he does not have a degree from an acceptable post-secondary institution.

“I felt like I was being told I couldn’t grow, like I was being blocked from progressing in my life. From that day until now, I’ve felt like a dead person inside,” Thirukkumaran said. “Whatever I could do I did it all. So what am I going to do?”

Thirukkumaran obtained his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon in Sri Lanka, which was accepted by both Ontario Tech University and York University, where he is currently completing his master’s degree in chemistry. He has previously worked as an organic chemist in Australia and has tutored students in chemistry for more than 20 years. Thirukkumaran has opened his own tutoring business in Canada, Catalytic Tutors, which employs 10 tutors, some of whom are his former students.

When asked why a degree that is accepted at Canadian universities was not recognized by the college of teachers, the OCT said it could not comment on admission processes for academic programs, which differ from an evaluation for a regulated profession in Ontario.

“These two processes are separate and are driven by different purposes and mandates,” the OCT said in an email. “The College is not a university. It is the regulatory body for Ontario’s teaching profession with responsibilities that are enshrined in legislation.”

The OCT said it could not comment on whether it would be revisiting Thirukkumaran’s application. Thirukkumaran said he will be appealing the decision.

It is no secret that there is a chronic problem within Canada’s immigration system that rewards high educational achievements and professional work experience, but makes it difficult for some to find jobs in their field. In 2016, only one-quarter of internationally trained immigrants in Ontario were employed in the regulated professions for which they trained or studied, according to the Ontario government. But last summer, approximately 300,000 jobs were unfilled across the province, costing billions in lost productivity.

The untapped immigrant labor force becomes even more urgent in light of staff shortages in fields like health care and education, where there have been unprecedented staff absences in large part due to the strain of the pandemic. In April, the Toronto District School Board reported the highest number of classes affected by staff absences in a single day during the pandemic, due to a combination of religious holidays as well as existing staffing challenges amid the sixth wave of COVID-19.

At West Hill, the position for a chemistry teacher had been advertised for weeks, but the school has yet to receive any applicants for the role, according to principal Trevor Bullen.

“It’s beyond desperation of finding teachers, especially for a specialty role like chemistry, so we need people like Thiru in our schools. We need his experience from him and his knowledge from him, ”Bullen said. “Every day in our school we have up to seven unfilled jobs where we don’t have teachers show up. We’re stretched to the limit.”

Bullen said he reached out to Thirukkumaran, who had previously completed a practicum at the school for his teaching degree, because he was highly recommended by another chemistry teacher who said he was the best student teacher she ever had.

“It was such a shock to hear that he had been denied his OCT. It’s not just about Thiru, there are so many people who came to this country for an opportunity to succeed and we are not following through on our part of the bargain by giving them those opportunities,” Bullen said.

Thirukkumaran had only planned to volunteer at the school for a couple of weeks, but said that once he started he couldn’t walk away knowing the students might not get a teacher in his place.

Students and colleagues commented on a Facebook post supporting his cause, including one student who said, “He is the best teacher I’ve ever had. How is this fair?

“I couldn’t leave them. What will happen to the students in the next two months?” Thirukkumaran said.

“I want to see these students succeed. Until they say leave this school, I will be here.”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.