New Canadian Media

Commentary by: Mona Mashadi Rajabi in Tehran

I was standing in front of the school’s office and Melody, my daughter, was right beside me. All the children were passing by happily with their parents.

The principal gave me the registration forms and started to talk about the rules and regulations of the school. I was there to register Melody in junior kindergarten.

While I was filling out one of the forms, the principal pointed to an important part and said: “Please write two phone numbers of family members or trusted people, the people whom we can call in case of an emergency.” He continued, “if something comes up, there must be someone other than you and your husband that we can call.”

But, there was no one else to call and it made me nervous. I explained that my family was new in the country and no other family members or trusted friends to call. It was just us, I said, promising to be available Melody needed help. 

My daughter's big moment

I was busy attending preparation classes at university when the big day for Melody arrived. It was her First Day at school. Parents were supposed to be available to accompany their children to help them get ready for a milestone moment in their young lives. Parents were expected to give the children a goodbye kiss and wish them a good First Day at school.

It was a big moment for my daughter, a four-year-old girl who wanted to start the journey of her life, but, sadly, I could not be there to support her.

I had to attend a lecture, so I left home early in the morning and my husband took her to school. I learned that the principal was so surprised because of my absence as I missed the most memorable day of my daughter’s education. It was the day that would never come back and the memory that would not be repeated in the future.

Feeling absent

After a few months, Melody’s teacher invited the parents to talk about their children’s behaviour and performance in school, and I missed that occasion, too. I missed it because I had an exam on the same day and I had to be at the university.

My absence from my daughter’s life sadly continued. She became sick and I was at my office in the university for my teaching assistant job. She attended the school’s Halloween party and I was busy preparing for my mid-term exams.

She started to speak English and I was not there to witness it, she started to learn French and sing some short songs and I was not there to enjoy it, she found friends and I could not be there to celebrate her friendships, she got invited to her friends’ birthday parties and I could not accompany her, and she went to the playgrounds and I was too tired to play along with her.

I was never available for her, as I was either busy at school or tired at home.

My wish list

I was unhappy and unsatisfied deep inside as I was living a dual life. A life of a full time Ph.D. student who had to work all day long and the life of a mother who was supposed to raise a happy and healthy child but was missing all the precious moments of her daughter’s childhood.

It was not just me in this situation. Many international graduate students with children felt the same as they were alone and had no family or close friends around to help them. They were always busy at school and could not attend to the needs of their children. Many of my colleagues felt like a failure as a parent and lived in an unstable emotional and financial situation in Canada.

I thought about alternative solutions that could help parents like myself who were also full-time students.

I wished the university’s educational calendar started one day after the First Day of children’ school. I wished the schoolteacher could give a couple of choices to parents from which they could choose the one that fit their schedule to speak about the children’s performance at school. I wished the university’s teaching schedule was more flexible and professors cared more about graduate students who had a big responsibility as a parent specially when they had to work as a teaching assistant.

Those were the thoughts that occupied my mind, but they remained a wish list.

Finally, an unbalanced life

Unfortunately, I could do little about my circumstances. The university expected me to be a full time student and a failure at school could lead to the termination of my student visa and eventually an order to me to leave Canada. My husband and Melody were my dependent and a change in my status could have changed theirs as well.

So, I, like most of other international graduate students, had to sacrifice my family life in order to stay in Canada on my student visa. This was an unfair deal for a parent graduate student.


Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.  

Published in Education

by Maria Ikonen in Gatineau, Quebec 

National Aboriginal Day celebrated its 20th anniversary on June 21. The nation-wide day of celebration is culturally significant as a time when Aboriginal groups celebrate their heritage as well as the summer solstice.

“For Canadians, National Aboriginal Day celebrations are an opportunity to learn, to join in appreciation of Aboriginal culture and to engage with others,” says Trina Mather-Simard, executive director of Aboriginal Experiences, Arts & Culture, which produces the Summer Solstice Aboriginal Festival.

Mather-Simard emphasizes that organizers were happy to see so many Canadians in attendance and engaging with their nation’s history. 

History of First Nations in Canada

Aboriginal peoples is used as a collective name to refer to the original peoples in North America and their offspring. According to the Canadian constitution, First Nations, Métis and Inuit are recognized as Aboriginal peoples, and the 2011 National Household Survey indicates that over 1.4 million people in Canada identify as part of an Aboriginal group.

The earliest signs of Aboriginals in Canada date back 15,000–20,000 years ago, but “in Aboriginal perspective, they have been here always,” says George Nicholas, Simon Fraser University professor and director of the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project (IPinCH).

Historians grouped the First Nations according to the six main geographic areas of Canada: Woodland First Nations, Iroquoian First Nations, Plains First Nations, Plateau First Nations, Pacific Coast First Nations and the First Nations of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins. 

Residential schools and colonialism

In recognition of National Aboriginal Day, Historica Canada revealed its latest Heritage Minutes, which explore the history of Aboriginal residential schools and the aftermath.

Aboriginal residential schools were part of a program to remove children from the influence of their families and assimilate them into Canadian culture. The schools, which housed roughly 150,000 First Nations children, were heavily criticized for the significant harm they caused the children, such as by exposing them to physical violence and depriving them of their culture and heritage.

“It brings back my own memories of experiencing, of having to watch a child being beaten to death. So when I see that, it brings back those horrors. I hope I don't have a nightmare tonight," said a Cree educator and residential school survivor Doris Young of the videos.

Despite an apology given in June 2008 by former Prime Minister Harper for the residential school program and Prime Minister Trudeau's announcement of new funding for indigenous mental health services, representatives feel there is still work to do regarding the treatment of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. 

David Zimmer, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, says that the current challenge is to encourage non-Aboriginal communities to work with Aboriginal communities.

John Rustad, B.C.’s Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, writes, “Reconciliation comes in many forms. To me, reconciliation means to respect, to be aware and to acknowledge each other as equals. It’s about teaching our children about their past, and it’s about creating understanding and better opportunities for Aboriginal people.”

In keeping with the day’s focus, Nicholas highlights the need to remember First Nations’ challenges with colonialism, which has resulted in their loss of access to their land, language and heritage.

He says that the reconciliation is very much needed, but also very problematic, “It requires fundamental changes on how things are done. The government has to make up new ways to work with the First Nations, not only consult them. First Nations must have more power in the decision-making process.”

First Nations in modern Canada

While Minister Zimmer is very hopeful that the challenges faced by Aboriginals will lessen as more people become aware of their situation, Nicholas highlights how difficult it can be for First Nations to become a part of greater Canadian society.

Sam Mukwa Kloetstra, a representative from the Mattagami First Nation in northern Ontario, told CBC News about his transition from his small community to the big city of Toronto: “You go from a community that is so tight-knit, where everyone is family, your doors aren’t locked, you know all the dogs by their first name. Then you move to a city where people just seem so closed off — there’s lots of people, but not lots of interaction.”

According to the CBC News, living away from their familiar surroundings, “Indigenous youth risk losing their connection to their home and their culture. Many face discrimination. Some turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain and loneliness.” 

Brock Lewis, Anishinaabe (Odawa, Pottawatomi) from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, offered advice to First Nations youth on retaining their heritage: “Dancing, singing, painting, art or ceremonies — if you're able to grasp onto any of that stuff, really take it and go with it as far as it'll bring you.” 

For Nicholas, the National Aboriginal Day is an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect on the importance of First Nations for the country.

“If we want to promote Canadian multiculturalism we should acknowledge and respect other voices. We can't forget that the First Nations were the founding people of this country, and therefore to be acknowledged for who they are,” he states.

He continues, “Things are changing. I am very optimistic. First Nations are gaining more control of their affairs and gradually there are more opportunities.”

Festivities related to National Aboriginal Day will continue in Ontario until July 1.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in History

 The Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) has become the first school in Canada to implement the Ulpan-Or method, an innovative, technology-based,...

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Published in Education

A Surrey elementary school was riddled with bullets at six in the evening, a time when children could easily have been playing on the grounds.  This latest violent shooting incident on Tuesday has shocked and outraged all British Columbians.

Gun violence isn’t just happening in Surrey – earlier this month a 74-year-old grandfather and innocent bystander was killed in Abbottsford, while a Vancouver city worker was killed in broad daylight in Burnaby in July.

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Published in National

by Joyeeta Dutta Ray (@joeyday20) in Etobicoke, Ontario

Diana Nayel immigrated to Toronto from Sweden with her sister in June 2012, leaving behind all things familiar. She started her first day of Grade 5 at Toronto’s Westway Junior School in the city’s west end feeling a bit lost. No one spoke Swedish in her class. She was unsure of her English skills. How long would it take to fit in, she wondered.

Muntasir Mohammed arrived from Dacca, Bangladesh in 2011. Although his English fluency helped him adapt faster to his Grade 5 classmates in Etobicoke, Ont., he was uncomfortable carrying homemade curries to school. His lunchbox always contained cookies or chicken nuggets, compromising nutrition for the need to fit in.

Salma Syed (whose has been name changed for privacy) wears her hijab with pride, like many of her Grade 7 classmates at Toronto’s Islington Junior Middle School, but is quick to take it off when she’s out with her friends in an effort to blend in with society at large. Her parents migrated from Dacca, Bangladesh in 1999.

For 12-year-old Aneeka Ray (full disclosure: she is my daughter), she arrived in Toronto in 2013 from Bangkok, Thailand and being a newcomer made her the easy target of a cyber bully. She was not the first one, either. According to her friend, other shy newcomers had faced similar experiences at school.

Finding ways to assimilate

Each year, over 50,000 children arrive in Canada, and like Nayel, Mohammed, Syed and Ray, they are unsure of how they will fit in. 

Some are war refugees; some are typhoon victims. Some have parents with low literacy levels. Others are financially challenged. And the education system itself is unfamiliar.

Their parents or guardians often get sucked into their new world of struggle, leaving children to fend for themselves. Kids are whisked off to a neighbourhood school, expected to take to it like fish to water, even though it is difficult to find their bearings.

“Once a new child sees a peer group of the same ethnicity, they are quicker to form a bond.”

Canadian schools offer free education and equal opportunities. But is the system doing enough to ensure newcomer children a chance at educational success?

“In many schools a sizeable number of students are naturalized Canadians from various ethnic backgrounds,” explains Manoshi Chatterjee, who teaches in an elementary school in York region. “Once a new child sees a peer group of the same ethnicity, they are quicker to form a bond. Group activities help them participate and assimilate.”

This was true for Nayel. Even though she isn’t of Somali descent herself, when she started a new school her second year of being in Canada where there were many Somali Canadians, the setting felt more familiar.

“My school in Sweden was in a Somali neighbourhood,” explains Nayel. “My new friends made me feel much more at home (in Canada).”

For Nayel, English as Second Language (ESL) classes helped polish her linguistic skills, which she initially felt insecure about. 

“ESL programs play a pivotal role for immigrant students who struggle with reading, writing or communicating in the language,” explains Chatterjee whose school (she didn't want to disclose the name for privacy), like most others, champions the program.

Supporting newcomer students

Jane Chandler, an elementary school teacher with the Peel Board District Board in Mississauga says that schools play a vital role in helping students adjust. She highlights the Peel board’s parenting centres, where adults are encouraged to participate with their children, as a prime example of this.

“This acts as a wonderful platform,” Chandler says. “The family gets to know the culture of Canadian schools. Parents get opportunities to share stories about their own culture and learn from others.  We encourage students to speak their own language at home. This may slow down the English learning process, but in the long run, it (multi-lingualism) has several benefits.”

“[Students] are taught to value the richness of their own culture and at the same time develop respect for others.”

Keya Ghosh, an elementary school supply teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) hones in on diversity. 

“Our schools play a critical role in making students appreciate their differences,” Ghosh says. “[Students] are taught to value the richness of their own culture and at the same time develop respect for others.”

Ghosh points to special events celebrated across TDSB schools like African Heritage Month and ‘multicultural day’ as examples of this.

Outside of the Greater Toronto Area, initiatives like Newcomers’ Orientation Week, which was held by one Windsor, Ont. high school, help to put anxious newcomers at ease.

Canadian schools amongst top in the world

The efforts Canadian schools make to support newcomer and culturally diverse students is perhaps a reflection of an education system in fairly good shape.

“A quality and free education helps every new immigrant family get equal opportunity in one of the best school systems in the world.”

According to an international education survey reported by CBC, Canadian schools are among the top globally, right after China (Shanghai province), Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

The report states, “Students in Canada tend to perform well regardless of their socio-economic background or the school they attend.” 

On a regional level, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia rank highest in reading skills.

“A quality and free education helps every new immigrant family get equal opportunity in one of the best school systems in the world,” says Chatterjee. “It is one of the major factors that have helped newcomers integrate into Canadian society.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Education

THE world is changing. Technology and innovation are reshaping society. Today’s students need the right skills to succeed in tomorrow’s world. That is why this fall the B.C. government says it is kicking off a three-year transition to a new curriculum in B.C. schools that will ensure students learn the basics like reading, […]

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Published in Education

by Surjit Singh Flora (@floracanada) in Brampton, Ontario

It is surprising that the Ontario government has launched an advertising campaign about the controversial sexual-education curriculum, instead of engaging parents more directly and responding to their concerns.
 
Queen’s Park is using electronic and print media and some advertisements have already been released. The government surely hopes the campaign will lay to rest any remaining questions on the controversial curriculum change, but in my view, parental concerns run much deeper.
 
“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying.
 
The government’s curriculum has many shortcomings, written in a language that makes it difficult to forecast the outcome – all in the name of “education”. Protesting organizations have called this curriculum "indoctrination". But at this juncture, the government sees the advertising campaign as the solution, adding more public spending to an already indebted government.
 
Not listening
 
“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying. “This is a case where there’s enough misinformation out there that we believe that we actually need to get more accurate information into the public discussion.”
 
The government has shown that it is incapable of paying heed to the many parents who consider this curriculum a risk to the raising of their children. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government appears keen to implement its agenda by all means. There is a chance this fight will be waged over a long time.
 
website advocating for parents claims it has been threatened with legal action by the Peel District School Board, which I find condemnable. This raises the following question: will the right of freedom of expression be taken away? Will legal action be taken to silence the voice of those who oppose this controversial curriculum?
 
Trust in the public school system has weakened over the last several months. The people’s trust in public institutions is much more important than the stick of law-and-order. The people’s trust can be regained through transparent dialogue and consultations, not through advertisement campaigns and the threat of legal action.
 
Mainstream media bias
 
The discriminatory behaviour of the mainstream media is also worthy of condemnation. In my experience, the mainstream media are so biased that they do not want to listen to anything or cover anything against the curriculum, with many journalists aiming to completely bury opposition.
 
Whenever protests were held, the mainstream media either failed to report them or have tended to downplay coverage.
 
Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?
 
The mainstream media may have different perspective on other subjects, but they seem united in opposing the protesting parents and favouring the government on the matter of the sex-ed curriculum.
 
At this point, it seems clear to me that the Wynne government and mainstream media want to suppress the voices of parents who oppose the curriculum, labelling their objections as “homophobic” or motivated by sheer ignorance.
 
Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?
 
The government and mainstream media are ignoring a petition that has 185,000 signatures.
 
The same media ignored the “cultural genocide” of Indigenous children because it was considered an Indigenous matter; similarly, opposition to this controversial curriculum is being presented as driven by new immigrants only. In fact, all communities have been opposing it and the protest held at Queen’s Park on June 7, 2015 is proof enough.
 
Even if we were to grant that the issue is primarily a “new immigrant” concern, are new immigrants not also parents? Don’t they have a right to safeguard the well-being of their children?
 
Dubious authors
 
It is a matter of shame that the overseer of this curriculum, Benjamin Levin, has recently been convicted on charges related to child pornography. Levin was Ontario’s deputy education minister from 2004 to 2007 and a Wynne supporter, playing an important role in her transition team.
 
Levin frequented a website with discussion forums on the sexual exploitation of children and police found numerous images of child pornography on his computer. On July 8, 2013, Toronto police charged him with child exploitation and on May 29, 2015 the court sentenced him to three years in prison.
 
The mainstream media did not consider it reasonable to ask the government about the relationship between Levin and this sex-ed curriculum. The government repeatedly claims the curriculum will protect children from sexual exploitation and diseases, but more likely it is a case of “Jackals guarding the hens” as a Punjabi saying goes.
 
The government should immediately withdraw this sex-ed curriculum or make the necessary changes requested by parents. Further, all information about the people who helped draft the document should be made public. This issue is crucial to the security and future of our children. It is the government’s duty to reassure parents that this revision is in the kids’ best interests.

Surjit Singh Flora has lived in Brampton, Ontario for the last 25 years. He is a guest-column writer, news reporter and photographer who has been published all over the world in more than 100 newspapers, magazines and online. He is also the editor and publisher of the weekly English news magazine Asia Metro Weekly.
 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Mahsa Bakhshaei (@mghezeli) in Montreal, Quebec

Recently, four teenagers allegedly left Quebec to join extremist groups in Syria. Their departure prompts concerns about whether we are doing an adequate job of integrating children of immigrant families.

Do some youth become radicalized and develop oppositional identities even though Quebec’s immigration and integration policy tries to promote intercultural rapprochement, common values and solidarity?

As far as this issue is concerned, media reports highlight Muslim communities in general, and North African and Middle Eastern communities in particular.

Discrimination and negative public perception

From 2009 to 2013, immigrants from these regions constituted more than one-fourth of Quebec’s immigrants. In Quebec schools in 2011, North Africa was the first birth region of students born outside of Canada, and Arabic was the first foreign language most often spoken by students whose mother tongue was neither English nor French.

Despite their high social and cultural capital and strong knowledge of French, these immigrants have a very high unemployment rate, due in part to the discrimination they face.

For many immigrants who leave their country for a new, better life in another, the academic success of their children can usually – but not always – suggest they’re generally engaged in a positive, harmonious immersion into this new society.

In Canada and Quebec, the dominant public perception of Arab-Muslim immigrants has become more negative over the past decade. While a 2001 Leger Marketing poll found that 71 per cent of Quebecois reported the events of 9/11 did not change their opinion about Muslims, a meta-analysis of public opinion and sampled interviews conducted in the 2000s clearly shows that Muslims systematically rank as the least favoured group compared with other religious or cultural communities. Moreover this negative public opinion is more pronounced in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, especially within French-speaking communities.

Studies show strong academic success overall

In 2011, the Research Group on Immigration, Education, and Schooling (GRIES) conducted a systematic follow-up of two cohorts of immigrant-origin students entering Quebec high school in 1998 and 1999. The study distinguished between those enrolled in the French and English sector, and between their major regions of origin: East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America.

In the French sector  where, due to 1977’s Bill 101, the majority of immigrant-origin students are required to attend school  3,715 students out of the sample’s 24,099 first- and second-generation students originated from North Africa (mainly from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and the Middle East (Mainly from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria).

[R]esearch shows that immigrant students belonging to marginalized groups adopt different ways of coping with discrimination towards them.

According to this province-wide study’s findings, in Quebec French-language high schools, first- and second-generation adolescents originating from North Africa and the Middle East have the highest graduation rate in comparison with native third-plus-generation students (after their East Asian and Eastern European peers).

A specific analysis of these students that I conducted shows that their academic performance is due to their high language skills. Although many of them are born outside of Canada, nearly half have French as their mother tongue or the language most frequently spoken at home. Only 10.6 per cent of these students need linguistic support in high school.

The features of their schooling process and the characteristics of their schools also play an important role in their success.

These students have high primary-level entry rates, over-representation in the normal age upon entering high school, high private-school attendance rates and a moderate presence in public schools attended by students from low socio-economic backgrounds. The study also found that students born in Canada and those who were French speakers were more academically successful. In addition, students from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt performed better than those from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

In a more long-term study about the same cohorts of students, the researchers of the Research Group on Immigration, Education, and Schooling (GRIES) – Gerard Pinsonneault, Marie McAndrew and Jacques Ledent – found that students from North Africa and the Middle East have a higher college and university registration rate compared to other geographical groups.

[E]thno-racial devaluation in the new society leads to anger and distress, less satisfaction with the new society, and even poorer physical and mental health.

All of these findings could soothe educators’ concerns about the apparent tendency of North African- and Middle Eastern-originated youth feeling separated from Quebec society. For many immigrants who leave their country for a new, better life in another, the academic success of their children can usually – but not always – suggest they’re generally engaged in a positive, harmonious immersion into this new society.

Different ways of coping with discrimination

However, research shows that immigrant students belonging to marginalized groups adopt different ways of coping with discrimination towards them. Some groups, especially those from a high socio-cultural background, may strive for academic success because they consider school a way to improve status.

Others who feel that social mobility for their ethnic group is limited may see few links between academic success and a good social position. As a result, they may develop oppositional identities as a way to show their resentment at the discrimination.

Either way, research indicates that ethno-racial devaluation in the new society leads to anger and distress, less satisfaction with the new society, and even poorer physical and mental health.

We may never discover what really motivated those young people to try to leave the country. However, the broad lessons we can learn from these studies are the need to eliminate discrimination, and to improve our culture of meritocracy.

In the coming years, when immigrants and their children will account for most of Canada’s population growth, educators and policy makers should consider these important lessons.


Mahsa Bakhshaei is a Postdoctoral Fellow with joint affiliation between McGill University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her current interest is the educational performance of immigrant-origin youth. Her postdoctoral project, which is granted by the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture (FRQSC), is a comparative study of the educational performance of South Asian high school students in Canada and the U.S.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 28 June 2015 05:41

Sing Your Way to Punjabi

Preet Sandhu Dhillon has taken what kids and babies naturally do and made it a teaching tool. 

“Singing to babies and children comes naturally. We all do it. Children also love music and it’s a very powerful tool for language exposure,” says Dhillon, who has three children.

She and her team of producers and musicians put together catchy and easy to sing-along tunes to expose children to Punjabi numbers, colours, animals and body parts in their first children’s album Punj Nikkay Bandar.

“This is going to be a very powerful tool in helping to preserve the Punjabi language.” - Preet Sandhu Dhillon

Dillion looked for professionally performed Punjabi songs with a good beat; she found the quality of songs available was lacking, too religiously based or not developmentally appropriate for preschool aged children. That inspired her to create her own album that kids and parents could sing along. 

“This is going to be a very powerful tool in helping to preserve the Punjabi language,” says Dillion. 

Punj Nikkay Bandar is a children’s music playlist with tunes that are familiar and catchy, and will introduce the Punjabi language to all listeners.

Tracks include: "Baabay Budday Da Si Khait" ("Old Macdonald Had a Farm"), "Angootha Kithay Ah?" ("Where is Thumbkin?"), "Jay Kushi Hundi Ah Gidha Pao" ("If You’re Happy and You Know It") and many more.

Punj Nikkay Bandar can be purchased on iTunes and on Amazon.

Published in Partnership with South Asian Post.

Published in South Asia

by Raul A. Pinto (@RaulAPinto) in Mississauga

Not long after I landed in Canada from Chile in 2010, I met a young man through some mutual friends. He was a high school dropout, and his reasons were pretty simple: he wasn’t a good student, and he didn’t know what to take after graduation, so he preferred to work.

It was rare for me to hear about people in their early 20s who hadn’t graduated high school. Despite still being a developing country, nearly 90 per cent of Chileans ages 25 to 34 are high school graduates. The education reform in the works over the last decade, with local students advocating for free education from the government, only promises a brighter future for Chileans. Today, some of the reform movement’s early leaders have even been elected to congress.

[T]he number of students with Spanish backgrounds dropping out of school reached an alarming 40 per cent in Toronto a few years ago.

But it seems students who don’t finish high school, like the young man I met, are commonplace in Canada, despite being named as having the seventh-best educational system in the world in Pearson’s rankings. This is a serious issue, and the number of students with Spanish backgrounds dropping out of school reached an alarming 40 per cent in Toronto a few years ago. Today, measures taken have lowered the number to 21 per cent, with the overall dropout rate at 14 per cent. Better than before, but still not ideal.

What Parents Say

Gustavo Rizzo, an Argentinean Pentecostal minister, has been living and working in Spanish-Canadian churches for 12 years since he, his wife and three children emigrated here. Rizzo says it is extremely hard to tutor your children when you are not originally from Canada.

“I think about three things,” he says. “First is the language barrier, because we need to communicate with our kids’ teachers; second, the educational system, which is completely a different thing than the one my wife and I had; and third, as a consequence of the second, the difficulties we have for helping our kids.”

“We had been living in Canada a few years… By that time, we already managed the language pretty well. But the educational system was way different than the one we had back home.” - Guido, parent

Colombian natives Guido and Rossy, who prefer only their first names be published, are parents of three daughters, and their experience sending the eldest to first grade was a rude awakening to the Canadian educational system.

“We had been living in Canada a few years… By that time, we already managed the language pretty well. But the educational system was way different than the one we had back home,” explains Guido. “In kindergarten, they told us that before first grade, playtime was the major objective. And when she started first grade the school wanted her to already know some basic things about reading. Every time I had asked previously, I was repeatedly told that daycare and kindergarten were meant to be for playtime. And after a couple of months in first grade they said our daughter was behind in her reading. Nobody paid attention to us when we said what happened in kindergarten. We understood then that in this culture the schools expect us to do the biggest part in teaching our kids to read instead of just helping. For me the idea is that schools here aid and reinforce the education they (the children) receive from home.”  

What Experts Say

Luz Bascuñan, the first Latin American woman to be elected as a trustee at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), shared her views on Spanish student dropout rates in the 2009 publication “Four in Ten Spanish-Speaking Youth and Early School Leaving in Toronto.” In it, Bascuñan reduced the problem to four factors: the hiring system, the status of Spanish language in Toronto’s schools, the school curriculum and the lack of formal structures for parent and community involvement.

Today, she says the amalgamation of Toronto in 1998 also negatively impacted the education system, and she calls things like Ontario regulation 612/00, which installed parent involvement committees “a very generic way” to address parents not getting involved.

“Involving parents in their children’s education, which is key to educational success, cannot be done only because there’s a regulation,” Bascuñan says. “It’s necessary to develop a number of different initiatives. Back in the day, before the amalgamation, we had funding enough to make monthly meetings with parents, when we had trained child care workers to take care of the kids while the parents were there, we had interpreters for all the different languages, and we had dinner for everyone, solving the biggest problems parents use as an excuse for not going.”

The problems for Guido and Rossy’s daughter got worse with pressure from the school, with calls and letters telling them how behind their daughter was. “Some teachers suggested maybe our daughter had listening or speech problems, or having some family issues at home,” Guido shares.

I think parents that came from other countries are really concerned of their kids’ education. In fact, a better education was one of the main reasons why they immigrated here in the first place.” - Esther Contreras, Peel District School Board teacher

“As soon as the problems arose we started helping her every night after school until today,” Guido continues. “They’re nice at schools, very polite, but I think they try to evade being blamed for any problem that my daughter had. It’s true, at my house we try to only speak Spanish, but she speaks English too… she could talk in both languages with no problem. Even so, once a teacher told me to put her in ESL classes. And every time you asked for help they give you a long list of websites instead of talking to you any longer. We took her to all the doctors they sent us, and when we realized she didn’t have any medical problem, her teachers changed the nature of the issue over and over.”

Esther Contreras (who requested her name be changed) knows the problem first-hand. Born in Canada with Spanish parents, she is a teacher at the Peel District School Board (PDSB).

I think parents that came from other countries are really concerned of their kids’ education. In fact, a better education was one of the main reasons why they immigrated here in the first place,” she explains.

Contreras can speak with Spanish parents in their mother tongue, but for parents, who speak other foreign languages, interpreters must be requested — the school must “make an appointment, and wait until the PDSB’s office sends somebody.” 

Tackling the Problem

The local government has taken steps to address the situation. Some programs in Toronto are including Spanish teachers in their after-school homework clubs, and as Bascuñan says, “even when TDSB is still running behind, it has improved in the last years.”

“I don’t think teachers here are educated enough about newcomers’ issues and the impact that immigration really has on the students.” - Esther Contreras, Peel District School Board teacher

In June 2010, the PDSB released a study commissioned by its Parent Involvement Committee. The results were synthesized in 12 points, which covered the importance of heavily involving parents in the education of their children, including a stronger approach from the principal of every school, and more support for teachers encouraging parent involvement in school strategies. Teachers said “positive first” phone calls are a great strategy, unlike the types of calls Guido and Rossy received in the past that stressed them out.

However, Contreras says it is necessary to find a way to have more workshops. “I don’t think teachers here are educated enough about newcomers’ issues and the impact that immigration really has on the students.”

Of course, since then, Guido and Rossy have taken a different approach with their other two girls, teaching them the alphabet and some basic words early on. “And it worked,” says Guido. “My second daughter is in first grade and she is reading well already.”

And the oldest one? “In second grade they started teaching her math, and since she ‘couldn’t read,’ learning math was difficult, but not anymore. She’s in fifth grade and she is finally catching up now.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education
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