A group of young immigrants and refugees has ranked improved language policies at the top of a list of recommendations that could improve the lives of newcomers to Canada.
Their policy suggestions are outlined in an October 1 report titled “Fresh Voices From Long Journeys: Insights of Immigrant and Refugee Youth”. The document proposes allowing English-language classes to count toward high-school graduation and implementing a credit program for foreign languages that students speak at home.
“Immigrants and refugee youth feel the school system here is not really inclusive of other languages,” the report states.
Dina Ganan Perez is part of a team that spent more than two years working on the project. In a telephone interview, the 18-year-old refugee from Colombia told the Straight that learning English was a significant struggle upon her family’s arrival to Canada in 2005.
“It put me behind because I had to catch up, not only with English but in all of my other classes,” she recounted in a telephone interview. “I thought, ‘Wow, a language that is supposed to be taking me forward among my peers is leaving me behind.’ ”
If credits were given for English Language Learning classes (also known as English as a Second Language), Perez said she would have had an easier time keeping up in school. She questioned why English-speaking students get credit for Spanish classes while ESL students don’t get credit for English courses of an equal calibre.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2011 only 56 percent of Lower Mainland residents reported English as a first language.
The “Fresh Voices” report was produced in partnership with the Vancouver Foundation and Representatives for Children and Youth. Other recommendations listed in the document include suggestions for how to better bring together different cultural groups and how to improve education and employment opportunities for immigrants and refugees new to Canada.