The Abbotsford school district is considering the expansion of Punjabi language classes, but nothing has been decided yet, says superintendent Kevin Godden.
Godden said a review is underway to determine if there is enough interest from parents and students to offer the classes at more schools.
He said for each new class, 25 to 30 students are required, as well as qualified teachers. Punjabi classes are currently offered at five Abbotsford schools – Dave Kandal, Blue Jay and Harry Sayers elementaries; Eugene Reimer Middle; and Rick Hansen Secondary.
A group of parents has asked that the classes be included at some other schools, and the district has an obligation to look into the feasibility of doing so, just as it would with any other curriculum request, Godden said.
All B.C. students in Grade 5 to 8 are required to learn a second language. At schools where Punjabi is provided in Abbotsford, French also continues to be provided as a second-language program.
Parents choose which one they want their children to learn, Godden said.
The district has faced some criticism from those who believe only French should be offered because it is Canada’s official second language, and that the costs to learn or improve Punjabi should be borne by parents.
However, Godden points out that the Abbotsford school district currently offers German, Spanish and Japanese – in addition to French – at high schools, without any cost to familles.
Godden said learning a new language – or developing the reading and writing skills of a current one – is a “critical part of the educational experience for kids.”
He said research has shown that even when children are verbally fluent in their first language, there are benefits to improving the written form.
“They will learn English better if they have a better depth of understanding of Punjabi (or other language) first.”
Traditional school parent Balbir Gill made a presentation to the board of education in April 2010 on behalf of a group of parents. He said that although many students learn Punjabi at home, most don’t know how to read and write in the language.
Learning the language in its entirety provides more job opportunities for them, he said, such as with the police department and the hospital.
Abbotsford has a South Asian population of 16.3 per cent, according to the 2006 census (the most recent figures available).
The district with the highest South Asian population – Surrey, with 27.5 per cent – also offers Punjabi classes from Grade 5 on.
Godden said in districts with a high Asian population, such as Richmond and Burnaby, Mandarin classes are provided.