Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Provinces are under a tremendous amount of stress coping with the growing needs for free language classes by newcomers who have no official language skills and little education, many of them being refugees, and its consequential costs. The article below mentions the needs to be met but not the cost. Governments around the country spend several billion dollars a year on language training, highlighting our dysfunctional immigration policy which should instead be geared towards attracting those ready to enter the labour force, highly trained and language-ready. The article also fails to mention how the students featured support themselves while they attend classes, it would have been interesting to know that aspect of their lives, both to see if they have to be commended for making sacrifices, or if they are on social assistance. Especially troubling is the statement in the story that:"Depending on what skills a student arrives with, academic language proficiency can take up to seven years. Supports must be put in place to ensure these students feel comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn". What does it mean? Seven years of not being ready to work? Subsidies? This is confusing. This is a "feel good" story, but hardly analytical. The government needs to find a way to reduce these costs and improve productivity and efficiency, as Canada lags on both those metrics according to recent studies.

Language education needs multiply with immigration

Language education needs multiply with immigration

By Jeanette Stewart, The StarPhoenix
December 28, 2010

At Mount Royal Collegiate’s holiday potluck, sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf nudges cranberry sauce and a spicy chickpea salad sits beside turkey and dressing.

Students and teachers form a long line for the food, with more than 90 people coming together for a holiday meal shared by the students and teachers who are part of the school’s rapidly expanding English as an Additional Language program.

Enrolment in English language programs at Saskatoon Public Schools has tripled in city elementary schools and doubled in public high schools since the 2008-09 school year, to more than 1,000 students this year from about 400. Administrators are preparing for a further influx of students who need extra help with English as the province accepts an increasing number of immigrants.

“It’s like knowing you’re going to have company, but not knowing when they’re coming or how many are coming,” said Donnalee Weinmaster, superintendent of education for the public division. She oversees the EAL program.

In 2001-02, the province accepted 92 immigrants — that number grew to 9,002 in 2009-10. During the last decade, more than 30,000 people have come to the province, and the impact is being felt strongly in Saskatoon’s schools. Acquiring basic English takes about two years. Depending on what skills a student arrives with, academic language proficiency can take up to seven years. Supports must be put in place to ensure these students feel comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn.

The four students selected by EAL teacher Lana Lehr for an interview are friendly and articulate, at times talking over one another in their eagerness to share their stories of how they came to Canada and the vast differences between life in our country and the ones they came from.

“I really lucked out,” said Lehr about her students, whose faces are those of a changing city and province, one that for decades lagged behind more cosmopolitan cities such as Montreal and Toronto when it came to immigration.

Mahasin Adam, 21, came from Sudan two years ago. She lived in a refugee camp in the country all her life and when her father disappeared, her older brother left school to take care of the family. Her mother applied to emigrate and her entire family was brought to Canada because of the circumstances surrounding her father’s disappearance.

During the potluck meal, Adam opens up. She wants to be a journalist or a writer, though she’s unsure she’ll ever find the proper words. English is her fourth language and she speaks rapidly in Arabic with her sister, who will also graduate from Mount Royal this year.

In Eritria, their country of origin, the nation’s media is strictly controlled by the government. According to the BBC, it is the only African country without a privately owned news media, with its private press closed in 2001 for endangering national security. Reporters Without Borders classify it as the worst country in the world for press freedom.

There, a career as a journalist is a position of respect. For Adam, becoming a writer is a chance for her to tell her story.

“I have so many things to learn,” she said. “Maybe I can, maybe I can’t.”

Most of the students share common bonds — life in refugee camps, a tenuous education and inadequate health care. For the most part, their families came seeking a life of peace and opportunity for their children.

Karwan Mahmoodpour’s family spent 20 years in Iraq before they were forced out of the country. As Kurdish people in Turkey, they were forced to report to police daily and were one of many families seeking escape from oppression.

The now-16-year-old and his family came to Canada 4 1/2 years ago because his younger brother needed heart surgery. Mahmoodpour is a bright, articulate teenager who would like to become a doctor or a dentist.

“That’s my plan, but if that doesn’t work, I play soccer and I have dreams of becoming a soccer player,” he said.

For Bwe Doh Sue, 19, life in Canada presents a chance to create change for his people. Sue belongs to the Karen people, an ethnic group in Myanmar (Burma). His people have been victims of ethnic cleansing under Myanmar’s military regime for decades, and like many of the Karen people who have come to Canada from Thai refugee camps, his goal is to advocate for his people and his country, which is controlled by military leaders.

“I came here for my people,” he said. “I want to make a change of Burma.”

The self-assured, confident and well-spoken teen is already a strong advocate for his people and community. This fall he was chosen to address the public school board on Mount Royal’s EAL program.

His popularity at the school is evident, as he moves from table to table chatting with students and teachers alike.

EAL teachers such as Lehr have created a close community within their classroom. While at times the English of the students is hard to comprehend, they have a knack for understanding one another’s particular accents and phrasing.

The quietest of the four students is Hari Adhikari. Adhikari, 19, came from Nepal 1 1/2 years ago.

“When first I came I was so unhappy,” she said. “Now I like it here.”

Mount Royal has received the greatest influx of high school English learners, and the classrooms and hallways are where they receive their introduction to language and culture.

There are no signs the growth in EAL students will stop.

“We anticipate the same rate of growth in the next year and a half as seen in the last year and a half,” said Weinmaster. “It’s incredibly exciting. It’s an exciting time in our city, it’s an exciting time in our schools. We’re working really, really hard to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to learn and to grow academically, socially.”

Providing extra supports to English learners costs money, and while it is happy to deal with the richness these students bring to the classroom, the division must fund teaching staff, a program co-ordinator and supports such as speech and language pathologists, school counsellors and support for the families. The school division is also working to provide enough professional development for teachers who want to learn more about teaching students who need help with English.

The number of full-time EAL teachers has gone up from 12 in the 2008-09 school year, to 30 as of Dec. 10. This costs the division about $1.1-million more per year.

Extra costs must be absorbed into the existing budget, as the government has not set out special provisions to fund EAL learners. Enrolment growth is not funded until the following school year.

“If there’s a need out there, we’ve got to meet the need, so we have to fund it,” said Garry Benning, chief financial officer for Saskatoon Public Schools.

Education Minister Donna Harpauer said she recognizes the “upcoming pressure” on schools to provide this type of programming but said the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration has been working on creating supports for those students who come to the province in need of intensive language training.

Despite the challenges they face, the students say they are happy to be here.

“They had the power, the teachers, to beat students up,” said Mahmoodpour, who said when he was allowed to go to school in Turkey, teachers were strict and would beat their students. Adam also would receive beatings if she was late for school and as an Eritrean refugee in Sudan, she was forced to pay double what other students paid to attend.

“In Canada, it’s really good for education,” said Mahmoodpour, the others nodding in agreement

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