ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਲੈਂਗੂਏਜ ਐਜੂਕੇਸ਼ਨ ਐਸੋਸੀਏਸ਼ਨ
PUNJABI LANGUAGE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
4333 Portland Street, Burnaby, B.C. V5J 2N5
November 8, 2004
Honorable Tom Christenson
Minister of Education
P.O. Box 9066 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC, V8W 9E2
Dear Mr. Christenson,
Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) is a community based organization whose main objective is to promote Punjabi Language instructions in B.C.’s public schools and post secondary institutions. During the past few years it has made considerable progress. However, as far as the current provincial government is concerned, PLEA has been rather disappointed with the lack of response to our requests for the past several years.
Since November 2001, we have talked to some of the MLA’s and written to the then minister of education for changes to the provincial language policy. T-date we haven’t received any written response to our requests. Hopefully, you will take the time to look into this matter and respond promptly.
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.
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 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 ten years ago. In our view the fault mainly lies with the policy. It is due to the weakness in the policy that a school district can demand 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.
It is very unfortunate that whenever we approach a school/school district to offer Punjabi, they give us standard response. First, that there is no funding available for this purpose. Second, they don’t have appropriate qualified teachers to teach Punjabi. This is very frustrating. Thus, amongst other causes, we would like to discuss these issues with you as well.
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. 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)
C.C.Premier Gordon Campbell, Parliament Building, Victoria, B.C.