A report released this month by the Surrey school district suggests that French, Punjabi and Mandarin are the most desired second-languages classes in the city’s elementary schools.
The district launched a study in the spring of 2017 to consult with parents of children currently in grades 2 to 4 to collect input on what second language they’d prefer their child learn in grades 5 to 8.
The Second Languages Working Group was created, made up of individuals from the Punjabi Language Education Association, Canadian Parents for French, as well as district staff, a Surrey school trustee and parents.
A survey was launched and in all, 8,442 parents completed it, including 926 online responses.
Students were also included, with 15,918 children being surveyed.
According to the district’s report, several themes emerged.
The district learned that Surrey has approximately 325 students learning Punjabi as a second language in grades 5 to 8, with 19,400 learning French in the same grades.
But, it seems interest in Punjabi language programs is declining at some schools with existing programs.
Spanish was the “additional language of choice” identified by many parents of students in grades 2 to 4, but the demand did not show up in concentrated numbers to warrant further analysis at any single school.
The district found that while the desire for a second language was common, it doesn’t manifest itself in significant numbers for a specific language at a specific school.
Parents were asked their reason for wanting a second language taught to their child, and the top reason (3,854) was to enhance career opportunities.
Next was to increase understanding of other cultures (3,121), to be able to communicate in a second language while travelling (3,024), to be able to communicate with friends and family who don’t speak English (2,660), and to be able to communicate in both official languages (2,581).
Other reasons included improving cognitive skills and brain functioning, to develop an appreciation of learning languages and to learn to read and write the family’s language.
The report notes that a number of respondents believed languages offered at a school should be reflective of the community it serves.
The report also noted the difficulty in finding qualified teachers for second language programs, and that the district continues to recruit and work with local universities to highlight the need.
Parents at Erma Stephenson and Fraser Wood elementary schools, which both have intensive french programs, indicated a desire to include the learning of Mandarin there.
“The high request for Mandarin in these schools warrants further analysis, however, based on the number of Grade 6 and 7 students in the school, adding a third language option into the schools would present numerous challenges,” the report notes.
Meantime, there was support for Late French Immersion and Intensive French programs, but the report notes this could be considered in the analysis of waitlists and demand for choice programs.
The report noted there were a few schools where a significant number of parents preferred a specific second language option that wasn’t currently offered: Punjabi at Chimney Hill and T.E. Scott, and Mandarin at Walnut Road and Chantrell Creek.
The report suggests a need to collect further information from parents of younger students in order to predict a program’s “sustainability.”
The Surrey Board of Education received the report during a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 14.
District spokesman Doug Strachen said one of the district committees will be considering the report and coming back to the board with recommendations, likely in time for the next meeting.