New Canadian Media

Education

By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia

The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.

So what to make of these shifts?

On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.

To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).

According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.

Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.

Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.

Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.

There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.

Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.

By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.

This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.

We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.

That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.

It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.

We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.

These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.

The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change? 

Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.

By Leslie Layton in Chico, California

On a recent Wednesday, Chico State journalism professor Mark Plenke was messaged that he should check the campus newspaper racks. The student-run weekly newspaper, The Orion, had come out earlier that day, and an opinion column was already producing a stream of angry social-media responses.

Plenke, the faculty adviser to The Orion, found some 600 newspapers missing from racks in Tehama and Butte halls and rescued them from nearby garbage and recycling bins. The May 10 column by student journalist Roberto Fonseca, “Debunking GSEC Myths,” had already inspired a newspaper theft and was on the verge of sparking a campus debate that would veer from angry threats to culture-wars name-calling to thoughtful discussion. 

The column had been a sweeping attempt to take on what Plenke calls “hot-button issues” popular with conservatives -- in only about 500 words. Fonseca argued that “systemic racism” doesn’t exist, that there are only two genders, and that the student-run Gender & Sexual Equity Center (GSEC) was promulgating false notions about “rape culture.” In fact, Fonseca wrote, rape culture doesn’t exist, either. 

Soon, Fonseca, a 20-year-old junior who is finding his voice as a conservative columnist, was under fire for his writing skills, his choice of sources, his analysis. Before the week was out, a sign had been hung on the newspaper’s office door re-branding the paper “Rape Apologist News,” and he had received two threatening social-media messages.Roberto Fonseca

At times, the discussion at Chico State has echoed the campus debates nationwide when speech is perceived as offensive, tapping into a well of anger. But it’s also a story about a university community’s frustration with its student paper, and with how journalism is often conducted in an era of polarized politics. 

Some Orion critics say the column fits into what is now a pattern of irresponsible journalism, and they want more from the paper – more accuracy, more sensitivity, more listening. 

Fonseca, who the staff named opinion editor for the coming academic year, said his column wasn’t meant to be “malicious.” 

“Any sane person looking at this column knows it wasn’t meant to incite violence against anybody,” Fonseca said. “I was just trying to critique some ideas.” 

But GSEC warned that articles can incite violence by reinforcing prejudice. 

Rachel Ward, the student director of GSEC, said there’s a feeling on campus that “he didn’t write that article to open up an honest discourse. “It was written to purposely hurt and piss off a lot of people, especially in the political climate we live in,” she said.

Lindsay Briggs, a human sexuality professor, went further, labeling the column “hate speech” that was itself an act of violence because it “dismisses peoples’ identities.” Briggs, in defending students who have been marginalized, can seem brash, and she was, as she puts it, “boisterous” in challenging the column as hate speech. 

“Fuck you, Roberto Fonseca,” she wrote in the first of several public Facebook posts about the column. Later, in Facebook conversations, she refers to him as “some garbage student” and “repugnant” and “shitty.” 

On other parts of campus, the narrative has been different. Some journalism faculty say the article prompted a productive if painful discussion about free speech and gender and race. But in the view of some university staff, the column suggests the degree to which The Orion, in a time of sweeping change, has lost its footing. 

Alternative facts vs. legitimate sources 

The campus paper is a cornerstone of Chico State’s journalism program, having won a dozen national Pacemaker awards for general excellence. The staff works out of a basement office in Plumas Hall, and every week, after a new edition is published, receives a written critique by Plenke. But the adviser refrains from pre-publication intervention in keeping with state law that gives public high school and college students the right to freedom from censorship. 

As the “opinion section conservative” on the paper during spring semester, Plenke believes Fonseca was “blindsided” by the response to the GSEC column. Earlier columns, Plenke said, made people “upset” but not “inflamed.” 

In a March 25 column, Fonseca links terrorism to the Islamic faith, and says, “This is a religion that isn’t afraid to kill people for speaking out against their beliefs.” 

By the end of May, the online version of Fonseca’s GSEC column had about 19,000 page views, making it the most viewed article for the year, according to The Orion’s May 16 editorial. The column had easily superseded – in terms of readership and certainly attention -- news stories like a spring semester investigation into the costs of deferred maintenance at the university. 

In the aftermath, readers struggled to respond to the column and, in some cases, with their frustration with the paper. There were reports that alumni threatened to withhold donations. There were calls for the adviser to undertake more active advising. And there was Briggs, who said she’d refuse interviews and otherwise refrain from collaborating with the paper, “so long as Roberto remains on staff and the Orion continues to peddle trash such as this.” 

Briggs reported on Facebook that the parents of a prospective student saw her posts, contacted President Gayle Hutchinson, and declared that their child wouldn’t attend Chico State. Hutchinson then released her own statement and called Briggs to a meeting to remind her that her social media posts reflect on the university. 

Some of the 242 comments posted on the story were sarcastic, others thoughtful. A few students indicated the column reflected their own thinking. But the majority were critical, slamming the column for what they said was poor writing or the use of biased sources.

“In our world of alternative facts, Roberto has a bright future. But which will he choose? Breitbart? Lifesitenews.com? Which proto-fascist rag will pick him up for his convenient opinions?” 

The online version of Fonseca’s column links to research from mainstream media sources that provide facts, like the higher unemployment rates among Latinos and blacks compared to whites. He also cites sources that fall within the conservative mainstream, a right-leaning think tank and the journal “LifeSiteNews” that’s packed with propaganda and founded by a lobbyist group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. 

The right-wing sources seem to help him justify the leap to his conclusions, such as, systemic racism “is another myth put out by GSEC members that is widely accepted,” and, “Latinos and African Americans are falling behind by choosing to believe in racism instead of hard work.” 

Katie Peterson, program coordinator at the university’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center, said the column had no foundation in sound research, and, yet, The Orion staff has access to professional journalists for guidance. Katie Peterson and Krystle Tonga, CCLC staffers

“We’re allowing for a culture of alternative facts,” Peterson said. “The amount of hurt that was caused is ridiculous.”

Plenke defended Fonseca’s right to use conservative media sources – even though he says he had talked to the writer earlier in the semester about sourcing. 

“It’s not uncommon for conservative commentators like Roberto to call on the sources he’s familiar with from the conservative side of the spectrum,” Plenke said. “I think there’s a legitimate argument about framing and the use of facts. I don’t happen to agree with most of what Roberto said, but that doesn’t give me the right to deny him the ability to frame an argument the way he wants to.” 

Plenke decided not to report the newspaper theft because tempers were “hot” and a police report would further “inflame things.” 

“Eventually, this drifted into more of a discussion about whether speech like that should be allowed, whether the column should have been published, whether editors fell down on the job,” he said.

The Orion’s outgoing Editor-in-Chief Carly Plemons couldn’t be reached despite several requests by ChicoSol for a brief statement. 

Fonseca is the son of Nicaraguan immigrants and hails from Los Angeles. On May 17, after a week of intense scrutiny, he was interviewed at Chico’s City Plaza. A few days earlier, a journalism instructor had referred to his column as “fake news” and then led a heated class discussion about its content. Fonseca had been interviewed on the local nightly news. 

Because of the class discussion, Fonseca said he now understood more clearly the phrase “rape culture.” He said he was wrong when he wrote that gender and sex are synonymous, wrong to tackle so much in a small space. But he said his conclusions were unchanged, just not supported well. “I acknowledge that my arguments probably weren’t the best,” he said. 

He had read professor Briggs’ Facebook posts and seemed bewildered by them. “She says she hates me,” he said. “It sounds so personal.” 

The Briggs offensive 

On the Wednesday that Fonseca’s column was published, Lindsay Briggs, who describes herself on Facebook as “louder, meaner, sassier, and less afraid than most,” was on fire. 

In a May 17 interview in her Butte Hall office, Briggs, who sits on the GSEC advisory board but doesn’t speak for the student-run organization, explained why Fonseca’s column was a personal affront. “This student has written several inflammatory articles all year that were terribly written and super-offensive, but they weren’t attacking anybody,” she said. “In this one, he utilized GSEC throughout.” 

“As a queer person who is up close and personal with violence,” she told ChicoSol, “I see it day in and day out. I see the real effects of verbal violence all the time. I see the real effects of sexual assault and rape culture. Especially on this campus, where we do know that sexual assaults happen.” 

After she read Fonseca’s column, she contacted journalism faculty, who explained that they don’t run the paper. She contacted the editors, who defended the column. That night, she said on Facebook that she had “pleasant but underwhelming” conversations with the journalism department. She announced her Orion boycott and encouraged other faculty to follow suit.

GSEC, Briggs pointed out, is a program run by five students that has far less institutional support than does The Orion. “I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘Let’s let The Orion staff and the GSEC staff fight it out.’ That’s a denial of the systems of power in place.” 

Briggs doesn’t believe in unlimited free speech in general, which she said makes her part of a small faculty contingent. But she said she doesn’t object to Fonseca’s First Amendment right to speak about his beliefs – as long as The Orion is not the platform. 

“One of the things that’s really harmful right now,” Briggs said, “is that all ideas are valid and equal. That’s intellectually dishonest. Everybody’s right to an opinion has now become ‘all opinions are equal.’” 

Losing patience with a campus learning lab 

In the last edition of spring semester, The Orion published an editorial, “Campuses must choose between safe space or free speech” arguing that the column’s publication was a question of free speech. It cast the Chico State debate as one of many campus debates around the country pitting free speech against the right to critique or mock what college communities are calling “safe spaces.” 

“To promote ‘safe spaces,’ speech is being suppressed,” the editorial states. 

The editorial did not respond to critics who said Fonseca’s thesis hadn’t been well argued or to those who said that it was harmful to students who already feel vulnerable to verbal and physical attack. It didn’t address the fact that Fonseca says he didn’t fully understand some underlying concepts. 

The paper also published three pages of letters to the editor about the column and a one-page op-ed by GSEC. (The op-ed wasn’t included in the paper’s online edition until someone contacted The Orion.)

Plenke, who agreed that he’s a “First Amendment absolutist,” applauded the editors, who he said “made the resources of the paper available to people who didn’t like the column.” 

“While it hurts everybody’s stomach to have this level of anger,” Plenke said, “it did prompt some serious discussions on campus.” 

But some students and staff resented the reliance on the First Amendment argument.

 The president, Hutchinson, had already come down squarely on the side of free speech, although in her statement she attempted to distance the university from Fonseca’s column. “…the views expressed in the article in question do not reflect the values of our University,” she wrote. 

Although GSEC does calls itself a “safe space,” offering a place of support for marginalized students, Ward was incensed by The Orion’s editorial, arguing that it presented a false dichotomy. 

“I’m particularly offended by an editorial that suggests that safe spaces and free speech can’t co-exist,” she said, adding that it wasn’t his opinion that GSEC objects to but rather his use of sources. “We’re not negating his right to free speech -- we would never go there.”

In her May 17 op-ed, Ward focused on a call to the journalism department and The Orion to hold its writers to “higher standards.” Ward said the paper needs to take measures to “restoring the trust that many students, faculty, and staff have lost in ‘The Orion’ in recent years due to a pattern of irresponsible and inaccurate reporting.” 

Some in the campus community say that increased tension since the November election has made Fonseca’s columns particularly difficult to stomach. “Things have felt heightened,” Ward said. “The election has given a lot of people permission to be prejudiced in an explicit way. Students of color or who are queer or transgender have experienced firsthand slurs and have had rocks thrown at them.” (See sidebar.) 

In several quarters, staff members are out of patience. After the publication of Fonseca’s column, the Student Health Center told The Orion that it no longer wants to be a distribution point for the paper, said Jill Cannaday, nursing supervisor. Cannaday said she was told that the health center can’t opt out by law, so when a bundle of the May 17 edition arrived, they remained “behind the counter” and “available upon request.” 

Cannady said the center is used by students from many “walks of life,” some of whom are sexual assault survivors, and they deserve a “safe space” and welcoming environment. 

At the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center, Program Director CC Carter said he no longer reads the paper. “From a diversity standpoint, every semester they do something that hurts and pisses off my students,” Carter said. 

Two interviewees pointed to an April 2016 video The Orion posted – and that has never removed from its website -- of Cesar Chavez Day interviews with drinking students as culturally offensive and shoddy journalism. 

Journalism faculty say the paper’s independence is key to its “learning laboratory” features. Still, Susan Wiesinger, chair of the Department of Journalism & Public Relations, said it “pained” her to defend the GSEC column. 

“The column was not particularly well written or carefully sourced and that is a poor reflection on the program,” she wrote in an email statement to ChicoSol. “…it’s peer-led, experiential learning. There will be mistakes and missteps. Our responsibility as a faculty is to take those teachable moments into the classroom and help the students figure out what could be done better or differently as they learn their professional skills.” 

In the view of Plenke, the GSEC column produced a healthy debate and growth on the part of Fonseca, who has inched away from certainty in some of the beliefs he expressed in the column.

But for many members of the campus community, the debate and the classroom opportunities it presented came at a time when tension is high and patience either gone or thin. For GSEC’s Ward, they came at the expense of some of the university’s most vulnerable minority groups. 

Leslie Layton wrote this story with support from New America Media’s Tracking Hate fellowship program. She retired from part-time teaching in the Chico State journalism department nine years ago. Layton is editor of ChicoSol. This article has been republished with permission. 

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:00

Listening to our International Students

Written by
Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver
 
Canada’s international students, particularly those in major metropolitan cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, have been subject to intense criticism over the last year.
 
The students – over 363,000 of them – have been blamed directly or indirectly for a range of social problems, such as overheated rental markets, unaffordable housing, burden on public services, cheating, and bizarrely, even driving pricey cars.
 
The bulk of these criticisms are based on anecdotal accounts, in the absence of any strong statistical evidence. These accounts come from professors who study and interview as part of their work, and anonymous, retired institutional administrators who can now share stories freely, without needing to validate their assertions.  
 
These accounts also come from journalists looking to report on the latest cross-cultural phenomenon. At the end of the day, while they may capture some of the reality and part of the story, they are ultimately one-sided.  
 
Outsider narrative
What bothers me, as the Canadian-born son of a 1980’s international student and as someone who is now married to an international student, is that this outsider narrative represents only one side of the story. In drawing many of our conclusions, we have not been good listeners of international students, the true insiders.
 
In reality, we have generally silenced their perspectives and ignored their challenges, and taken for granted our own privileges while laying blame and assigning motives.
For starters, it is worth noting that an overwhelming majority of international students are bona-fide, meaning they are genuine, immigration law-abiding students.
 
In 2014, Canadian Bureau of International Education counted 336,000 international students, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (as it was then called) estimated that 20,000 of them were considered “high risk”, that is, likely to violate immigration law.
 
This accounts for only about six per cent of all international students admitted into Canada.
 
Jumping hoops
Next, it is important to hear from international students themselves to learn about the challenges and barriers they face, and for often understandable reasons do not feel like sharing them publicly. In my own practice, I have found that there are three major barriers.

Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies.  The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.

Once a student is here, Canada currently has a restrictive requirement that students ‘actively-pursue studies.’ Educational institutions now have two-tiered policies, under which international students are subject to excessive monitoring and reporting requirements. Depending on the institution, international students have to take a certain number of courses and maintain a certain attendance rate, while domestic students do not. Students with family emergencies, mental health episodes, poor grades, or who simply want to explore a different area, are often hamstrung.
 
On the back end, once they are ready to graduate, these same international students have difficulty obtaining post-graduate work permits based on their study history. Without the work experience from these permits, the already difficult pathway to permanent residence is mostly closed.
 
Societal barriers
Secondly, there are major societal barriers against international students. I have worked with many international student advisors at universities and colleges who recount anecdotal stories of students breaking down as a result of mental health issues. Without family and often inadequate knowledge or language ability to seek professional help, these students are particularly vulnerable.
 
Institutions, I am told by these students, have not always done the best to accommodate their cultural differences or to eliminate discriminative practices or advise without implicit biases. These issues are almost never reported in the media.
 
Finally, there is an underbelly of inadequate (often unethical) third-party services being offered and provided to international students. Many of these purported advisors are untrained and unqualified educational consultants and agents. Inevitably, if not sooner rather than later, students advised by these individuals find themselves personally liable in situations akin to fraud or misrepresentation, for which there are severe criminal and immigration consequences.
 
Seat at the table
Regardless of the economic and political questions raised by student immigration, we must not forget that international students need to have a seat at the policy-making table. We have seen the example from down south about what happens when immigration law is mandated by public opinion, fear, and top-down orders.
 
If we continue down this path of blaming and not understanding, I foresee only increased fracturing within our already increasingly fragile mosaic.
 
Ultimately, international students can only become an important asset when we as a society stop viewing them solely as cash cows or visitors. We should be viewing as prospective future citizens.
 
Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former New Canadian Media Board Member. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 10:26

Bramptonians Sucking on a Lollipop

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Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.

Downloading to taxpayers

But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.  

What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.  

If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again.  When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.  

Citizens in the dark

Will $90 million build a university campus?  I highly doubt it.  I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?

Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal.  We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down.  The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie.  The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital.  It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department.  Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services.  This does not bode well for our university.

Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.  

I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.   

So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.  

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

by Our National Correspondent

Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) was appointed Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) earlier this month. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with him by e-mail. 

Q: You obviously bring a strong international outlook to the new position given your own early background and education in Egypt. How do you think your immigrant background will help as Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU)?

A: Together the presidents of Atlantic Canadian universities share a diverse range of experience and we are stronger because of it. Having been an international student that immigrated to Canada, I would not claim to understand the needs and hopes of all international students. Everyone’s experience is unique, but that does not prevent me from drawing on my experience when I approach an issue.

I believe the key to success for both international and Canadian students stems from good relationships. At the University of Prince Edward Island, we strive to keep this at the core of everything we do, and it is emphasized during new student orientation and mental health and well-being initiatives. Interactions with friends, family, professors, staff, employers, and strangers affect our day-to-day lives, and building good relationships with these people can make all the difference.

International students will almost always have smaller networks of people in their lives so providing those services and opportunities to build those relationships when they come to Canada is key.

Q: As you say in your news release, foreign students are a particular focus. How do you think the current population of international students is fitting into Atlantic campuses? Are they contributing to the overall campus experience or do they tend to keep to themselves?

A: The culture of Atlantic Canadian universities is one in which the larger community and the campus are integral to one another. The cultural and social influences of students and their communities impact each other positively and benefit the overall experiences and success of everyone.

International students play a very important role on Canadian campuses as they are ambassadors for their respective countries. In Atlantic Canada, we strongly believe that integrating our international students into our campus communities not only benefits international students, but also Atlantic Canadian students.

Q: What does your early experience in Canada as a student/researcher tell you about what more Canada – particularly the Atlantic universities – can do to make foreign students feel more welcome? What advice do you provide to international students that you run into?

A: Canada has been, and is, welcoming to students of all cultures, and international students arrive in Canada with great appreciation for our country and its diversity. Having been an international student myself, I can say that there were many Canadians who made me feel at home by demonstrating support, kindness, and sincerity.

I personally have worked with and supervised dozens of international students and I tell them all, “In Canada you have the opportunity to be yourself, talk about your culture, interact with your community, and embrace Canadian values while enriching them with those of your own home.” This is advice that can truly help to make the best of an international student’s experience while studying in Canada.

Q: In your view, should international students have a pathway to Canadian citizenship? Would that help the Atlantic region address its demographic challenges?

A: When I think of immigration and encouraging our international students to stay and pursue citizenship, I recognize the many benefits that would have for our region. As our governments are actively working to attract talent and youth to help build our economy and society, an obvious group of people to attract would be the international students who are currently studying, researching, and honing their skills here in Atlantic Canada. In addition, I have to think about it from the point of view that even if our international students decide to return to their home country, they will forever be linked to Atlantic Canada. This too will have positive results, because if our international students are looking for opportunities to build bridges globally, there is a good chance that their first thought will be Atlantic Canada.

Q: Your time in Canada appears to have taken you to institutions from coast-to-coast. Can you please share with our readers your views on Canadian multiculturalism?

Having arrived as an international student and lived in Canada for over 30 years, I have seen many examples of how Canadians welcome, appreciate, and support the benefits of multiculturalism. We consist of people from all over the world, and yet we are probably one of the best examples of embracing differences. This makes us unique as we pour an incredibly strong foundation that embraces and respects the values of everyone.

 

Thursday, 22 September 2016 09:31

Alberta Needs to Rethink French Curriculum

Written by

Commentary by Salim Valji in Edmonton

Memorizing adjectives and pronouns did little more than create a resentment for having to learn French in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking the language took a backseat.

The sentiment above is true for many students who grew up learning French in Alberta, including myself. Lessons often consist of listing the gender pronoun (le, la, les) of nouns, and writing simple, declarative sentences.

Entire classes would be spent learning, relearning and being tested on memorization techniques like DR MRS VANDERTRAMP. Homework was more of the same … verb charts, fill-in-the-blanks and vocabulary.

See a trend here?

Throughout elementary and junior high, the method was always memorize first, ask questions later. Speaking French was never a priority until high school and accent training was seldom mentioned.

Learning to hate French

I queried my friends on social media: I was not alone. 

“My experience was terrible as well! I took French for eight years and can't speak a word if it,” one friend wrote. “It was all memorizing nouns and watching videos. It's such a beautiful language. I really wish they had taught it better. I’d love to know it.”

Another added: “I learned more German in four months than I did French in eight years in school. I think using an online program like Duolingo and setting goals might help. Also, so many BS tests on conjugating verbs made me hate French.”

The most profound comment came from someone somewhat older who said that like hundreds of others, she hated going to French class as a student. It speaks of a system that doesn’t know how to educate its students on Canada’s other official language.

Moving to a bilingual setting

When I was 20, I moved to Montreal. Despite taking French courses for 13 years, I was completely unprepared to live and work in a bilingual environment. It took me minutes to form short phrases, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I barely understood what was being said to me.

My perspective changed even further when I moved to France to work as an English Language Assistant at a high school in the Parisien suburbs. Alberta, and the rest of Canada, can learn much from how the French teach second languages.

From my first sessions with 12-year-old students, I could tell that they already spoke better English than I did French. Their sentences were clear, vocabulary strong and they knew how to express ideas.

Communication of ideas is what my role was focused on. I’d take groups of 10 to 12 students to my classroom, and, in my authentically Albertan accent, speak English to them. Often times, the lessons were planned with their English teacher, based on what they were learning in class.

The topics we talked about included the civil rights movement, the lives of historic figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and differences between North American and European culture.

Sometimes, I’d pose an open-ended question on the whiteboard and cross my fingers hoping that my students would pipe up.  That method usually led to great, enjoyable conversations —like the time where we spent an entire class talking about the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and how Robin Scherbatsky embodies certain Canadian stereotypes.

My students would speak their ideas and I’d correct them in real time. I was always amazed at how well they could speak about complex subjects in English.

The two most common mistakes they made were not pronouncing the h sound for words like “home” and “happy,” and saying “the” as zee or “there” as zerre. Beyond the simple correcting of grammar, my students received a language education I never had as a student … speaking and writing with someone fluent in the other language.

They learned to understand my accent. They questioned my usage of certain vocabulary and mimicked how I said things.

Need for spontaneity

So much of communication is situational and spontaneous: Where an event took place, what the score was, why someone was late for something.

The method of memorization forces students to retrieve information they retained and disposed of years ago. It also fosters a distaste of learning the language — the second anything becomes a chore, it becomes something we detest. It’s impossible to expect students, in the middle of conversation to recall what they were force-fed in some classroom years back.

It’s understandable that revamping the province’s French curriculum may not be high on Alberta Education’s priority list. Opportunities to speak the language organically are extremely limited—less than 25 000 of the province’s 3.6 million people identify French as the language the speak most often at home.

That being said, we need a conversation about whether the memorize-at-all-costs approach should be retired. Right now, that approach is leading Alberta students to despise — as opposed to appreciate — the French language.

Salim Valji is a media professional based in Montreal, Quebec. He is originally from Edmonton and has worked in Paris and New York City. 

Historical wrongs faced by East and South Asian immigrants and Aboriginal people to be taught

THE world is changing and parents expect their kids to be taught the skills they need to succeed in that changing world. That’s why, for the past few years, the Ministry of Education has partnered with teachers and […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Commentary by Peter Halpin in Halifax

Atlantic Canada could become a field of dreams for entrepreneurs, immigrants and international students.

And, if we give talented newcomers an incentive to move to the region and stay here, they will help build its economy.

Those themes were heard loud and clear at the June 24 Atlantic Leaders’ Summit on Talent Retention and Entrepreneurism, an event sponsored by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) that attracted 75 business, community, government, student and academic leaders from across the region.

Federal Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, M.P. (Kings-Hants), set the tone in a keynote address that opened the Summit. Minister Brison said entrepreneurial immigrants boost the economy and help address the region’s “terrifying” demographic challenge — too few workers supporting too many retired people.

The starting-over advantage

“Starting over (as immigrants do) is inherently an entrepreneurial experience. Immigrants see opportunities that others don’t.”

The Minister said the growth of the wine industry in Nova Scotia underscores this point. The leading pioneers in Nova Scotia’s wine industry – Hans Jost (founder of Jost Vineyards) and Hanspeter Stutz (founder of Domaine de Grand Pré) - both migrated to Nova Scotia from Europe. Pete Luckett, an immigrant from the United Kingdom and founder of Luckett Vineyards, is also a leader in the sector.

Due in part to the leadership of this trio, the wine business has grown from a fledgling industry into a major success story over the past two decades. Today, Nova Scotia boasts 22 wineries, 70 grape growers who cultivate more than 800 acres of vineyards, seven distinct grape growing districts, and its own white wine appellation, Tidal Bay. 

Despite the benefits that immigrants like Messrs. Luckett, Jost and Stutz have brought to the region, Brison said there is “little upside” to supporting immigration as a politician.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Role for universities

He said universities have an important role to play as “thought leaders” in leading a “culture shift” towards “accepting and welcoming new Canadians.”

The AAU has largely succeeded at persuading stakeholders that universities are the best source of new immigrants to Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s challenge “to lead the culture shift” among Atlantic Canada’s communities and citizens towards greater acceptance of new Canadians is the natural next step for the region’s universities in their support of regional population growth strategies.

Indeed, the AAU’s 2016 Graduate Retention Study showed 75 per cent of international graduates would remain in their province (of study) after graduation if given a choice.

Not that Brison is a pessimist. He says the region’s positive response to the recent influx of Syrian refugees may be a “game-changer.” He also says Atlantic universities are leveraging federal research grants to boost immigration to the region and build “a more innovative Canada.”

For instance, the Tesla lithium battery lab project led by Dr. Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University has assembled a team of 22 researchers, 12 of whom came from other nations.

“These investments in … research are incredibly important to bringing immigrants to Canada.” They “are part of an overall integrated” strategy in which universities play a key role. “Creating a world-class research environment … is critically important to our region.”

The Trudeau government would like to attract more global talent to universities in Atlantic Canada, and keep them here once they graduate.

Ditch "Come from Away"

“Can we take a Team Atlantic Canada approach to attracting foreign students?” The Minister suggested a pan-university mission to China is one idea worth considering.  The current contingent of the nearly 13,000 international students at AAU universities already represents a significant industry.

Less than two weeks after the Summit, Brison was also part of the team of federal cabinet ministers and Atlantic premiers who announced a three-year pilot project under which immigration to the region would increase significantly.  

At that meeting, Minister Brison was blunt in his assessment of current attitudes toward newcomers to the region:  “I have been told repeatedly by people who have moved to Atlantic Canada – that it takes a while to fit in. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Minister Brison quite rightly encourages Atlantic Canadians to ditch the “come-from-away” label often affixed to newcomers to the region.  He went further by saying that, “it’s in our collective interest, economically and socially, to not use terms that reflect a negative view of people who choose to make Atlantic Canada their home. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Building on the success of attracting more and more international students to our campuses; warmly welcoming them to communities across the region; helping place them in co-op education and internships during their studies; introducing them to alumni networks and employers and encouraging them to stay are just a few of the things our universities are doing to help lead the required “culture shift” across Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s call to action to our universities to help lead the creation of a more welcoming environment to newcomers has not gone unheeded.

Peter Halpin is executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU). This comment is the second in our series on immigration to the Atlantic region.

Most BC independent schools have a religious or alternative teaching approach and don’t conform to the “elite” stereotype, finds a new national study of independent schools released by the Fraser Institute.

“Many British Columbians believe independent schools are all elite university-prep schools, but that’s not the case,” said Deani Van Pelt, director of the Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education at the Fraser Institute and co-author of A Diverse Landscape: Independent Schools in Canada.

The study—the first of its kind—categorizes independents school in Canada. It finds that 75,402 (or 12.3 per cent) of all K-12 students in B.C. schools attended an independent school in 2013/14.

Fully 188 of B.C.’s 340 independent schools have a religious affiliation—half (50.0 per cent) are Christian (non-Catholic), 42.0 per cent are Catholic, 3.2 per cent are Jewish, 2.7 per cent are Islamic and 2.1 per cent have other religious perspectives.

Of those, 68 independent schools in B.C. are “specialty schools,” with a special emphasis in the curriculum, distinct approaches to teaching and learning, or an emphasis on serving specific student populations.

Asian Pacific Post

By arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post

 CARLETON University’s Canada-India Centre for Excellence (CICE) is partnering with three Indian institutions to deliver business and cultural programming that will offer Canadians the skills and knowledge required to work in India and foster stronger innovation and trade connections between the two countries. Carleton is partnering with the Bombay Stock Exchange Institute (BSEI) to offer […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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