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More than 400 students in India told to retake language tests after Niagara College flags concerns

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An Ontario college has raised concerns over the validity of the scores of a popular international standardized language test submitted by students applying from India after a probe found “inconsistencies” in language proficiency.

Niagara College has contacted more than 400 students admitted to its January 2019 programs who had taken IELTS tests at locations in India, telling them they had to undergo a second English test or risk losing their offer of admission.

Niagara College flagged concerns with “inconsistencies” in the scores of English-language tests taken by students applying from India. It has asked 428 applicants to retake the test in India or risk having their offers of acceptance cancelled.
Niagara College flagged concerns with “inconsistencies” in the scores of English-language tests taken by students applying from India. It has asked 428 applicants to retake the test in India or risk having their offers of acceptance cancelled.  (Niagara College)

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is accepted by most Canadian academic institutions and is one of two major English language tests used by Immigration Canada as independent proof of an immigration or citizenship applicant’s language proficiency.

Steve Hudson, Niagara College’s vice-president of academic and learner services, said the school launched an investigation this fall after the number of first-year international students flagged by faculty for being “at risk academically” surged to 300 from an average of 150 in previous years.

Those students were made to take an in-house language test and the college found 200 out of that group were failing in their academic programs because their English was not at the required level. Further investigation found 80 per cent of them were from India and had taken their IELTS tests at locations run by Australia-based IDP Education.

Niagara College said officials alerted IDP Education with their findings shortly after the fall semester started and notified immigration authorities last week.

“Based on (our analysis), we felt we needed to be absolutely certain that applicants for our winter 2019 term have a level of English proficiency that will allow them to succeed, and we wanted to do this before they invested significant time and money to travel here to study,” Hudson said in a statement to the Star.

The IELTS test, which is jointly owned by IDP Education, the British Council and Cambridge Assessment English, is a three-hour exam that assesses candidates’ listening, reading, writing and speaking skills on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 9 indicates the person is an “expert user” with full command of the language. But it is up to individual organizations to determine a pass score.

More than three million IELTS tests were taken in the last year by people around the world, according to IDP Education.

“The test is recognized for being fair to all test-takers regardless of nationality, cultural background, gender or special needs,” Warwick Freeland, managing director of IELTS/IDP Education, said in an email statement from Melbourne.

“IELTS is the leading English language test for international students in Canada,” he said, adding “results from all IELTS test centres, including all centres located in India, continue to be accepted for admission to Niagara College.”

In a followup email to the Star on Saturday, IDP Education raised questions about the value of the in-house test Niagara College gave to the Indian international students in the fall cohort, saying the college “used a low-stakes” test which is “not approved by Canadian education institutions or government to check their English language skills.”

Niagara College’s Hudson said the IELTS language test results submitted by the first-year at-risk students from India this fall were authenticated by IELTS and the school is treating the “inconsistencies” in their scores and language proficiency as a one-time anomaly. “We continue to believe IELTS is a good test for assessment of English proficiency,” he told the Star.

“We have been open to dialogue with IDP and have been communicating our interest in understanding (the) rationale for the larger number of students identified being at risk of failure,” Hudson said in a followup email on Saturday. “Academic quality and student success has always been and will remain at the core of Niagara College’s decision-making.”

An Immigration Department spokesperson said officials are looking into the matter.

There have been previous instances that have exposed the vulnerability of the administration of language testing around the world:

  • A Pennsylvania State University student from China pleaded guilty this year after paying someone to take the TOEFL English-language entrance exam for her.
  • In 2016, several people in Britain were convicted of running an immigration scam that paid fake “sitters” to take TOEIC language exams for non-EU students.
  • In Australia, an employee at Curtin University’s English Language Centre was found guilty in 2011 of accepting bribes and manipulating IELTS results through the centre’s computer system. The case triggered an investigation by Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission.

Freeland, who said IDP Education partners with a range of organizations who administer IELTS in 140 countries, maintained “IELTS is a secure and valid indicator of a candidate’s ability.”

“All test centres are rigorously monitored to ensure they operate to the highest of standards,” he said.

The test, which costs about $215 in India, has two versions, one for higher-level academic purposes and a general version that measures a person’s ability to function in English.

Niagara College said the school will be responsible for covering the cost of retesting for the 428 students in India and the tests must be completed by Monday.

Gonzalo Peralta, executive director of Languages Canada, an association that represents more than 200 providers of accredited English and French language programs across the country, said maintaining the integrity of language tests is important to the international education sector.

“Language testing is one tool that tells everybody — the students, institutions, Immigration Canada and employers — with confidence that this person is ready to perform linguistically,” he said in an interview. “You can’t run international education without appropriate and good-quality testing. So much depends on it.”

Alarm Raised Over Validity of International Language Tests | Story Behind the Story

Peralta said test operators constantly update their security measures and have tight rules in place at local test centres, including requiring photo ID and banning cellphones.

When informed about the situation at Niagara College, Peralta said, “I’m concerned it impacts one of our good members, Niagara College. I’m also concerned for the students who have invested substantially to learn. I’m concerned about IDP, not knowing what has happened.”

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, there were 494,525 international students in Canada at all levels of study in 2017, a 17 per cent increase over the previous year. Some 123,940, or 25 per cent, of these students came from India, which made up the second largest contingent behind China.

At Niagara College, which has campuses in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake, 2,914 of a total 4,683 international students come from India. Tuition fees for international students average $13,500, more than triple the amount their Canadian peers pay.

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Hudson said the school received about 8,200 international applications for the winter 2019 term, of which 4,800 applicants were from India, where the school recruits through international education fairs. The college made 1,300 admission offers to Indian applicants; 428 of those students have been asked to retake the IELTS test or take the alternative Pearson Test of English.

“We recognize that this is stressful for these applicants and their families, but we want to ensure that before they make significant financial and emotional investments involved with travelling to Niagara College to study, that they have the opportunity to be successful in their studies,” said Hudson.

“We believe the hardship they would experience if they were to travel here and be unable to succeed in their program of study would be much more significant. We will continue to engage with the applicants and IDP throughout this process.”

Hudson said those “at-risk” students who are already attending the college have either been redirected to language programs or offered additional language and academic support.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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