ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਲੈਂਗੂਏਜ ਐਜੂਕੇਸ਼ਨ ਐਸੋਸੀਏਸ਼ਨ
PUNJABI LANGUAGE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
4325 Portland Street, Burnaby, B.C. V5J 2N5
November 19, 2001
Honorable Gulzar Cheema, M.D.
Minister of State for Mental Health
Room 325, Parliament Buildings
P.O. Box 9066 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC, V8W 9E2
Dear Dr. Cheema,
Thank you very much for meeting with Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) on August 11, 2001 in Surrey. We also like to extend our appreciation for your continuing interest in issues concerning the Punjabi Language education in BC’s public schools.
As you know the new language policy of the Ministry of Education has been in place since the summer of 1994. However, as far as the Punjabi language education is concerned there have been numerous problems in implementing this policy, especially at the elementary school level. Consequently, only one elementary school in the province is teaching Punjabi, and that is still as a pilot program.
The main problem is of interpretation of the policy. Each school district seems to interpret the policy in a different way. Some consider those students who come from Punjabi homes as already possessing the language and consequently not eligible as second language learners. This is absurd since these kids may posses a small vocabulary in Punjabi but by and large they have no reading or writing skills. With this interpretation, students in some Surrey schools with over 80% Punjabi background population are being told to learn French as a second language. As the policy stands now it places other languages in direct competition with teaching of French as a second language. This is a very uncomfortable position since no one wishes to oppose French in anyway.
The second problem is that policy is in conflict with the way schools are organized. The mandatory teaching of second language from grades 5 to 8 creates a problem since elementary schools teach from grades 1 to 7. In order for an elementary school to start teaching Punjabi at grade 5 they have to ensure that it continues at the secondary level, which is not as easy as it may seem.
After spending considerable efforts and energy, we as a community have not been able to achieve much since the policy came into effect more than seven years ago. In our view the fault mainly lies with the policy. It is due to the weakness in the policy that Surrey School District can demand (see attached document) that the community should pay if it wants its kids to learn Punjabi in public schools. Punjabi here is treated as a foreign language despite the fact that it has been contributing in building this province for more than a century. In social sciences this practice is called lingucism.
In view of the problems mentioned above, we feel that the language policy should be reexamined. Changes are needed where teaching of Punjabi among others, is also welcomed as another Canadian language. There should be no room in the policy for different interpretations. It should clearly state who are second language learners and where the money will come from for teaching the second language.
Dr. Cheema, we hope that with your interest and understanding of the issue you can help the community in getting the Punjabi language its rightful place in the education system of British Columbia. As suggested by you, we would be pleased to meet with you and your other colleagues in the government to discuss this matter further. We are hoping to hear from you soon.
We thank you for your time and consideration.
Balwant Sanghera, President – 275-8977
Sadhu Binning, Vice President – 437-9014
Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA)