Burnaby elementary Punjabi program stalled
A proposed elementary-level Punjabi language program has been shelved by Burnaby school district after it didn't garner enough interest to go ahead.
The program was to be introduced as a pilot project at Second Street school in grades 5 to 7 as an alternative option to core French. The 2011-2012 school district budget even included $45,500 to start up and staff the program, that would involve studying the language and culture for a part of each school day.
"It really came down to the numbers," said Burnaby school board chair Larry Hayes of the decision, expressing surprise at the lack of interest.
Hayes noted that the board only considered it after members of the South Asian community approached school trustee Baljinder Narang saying they wanted it.
Narang said she supported efforts to start the program as the board is committed to providing language education opportunities, and was also surprised at the response.
"I was disappointed because I felt when the initiative came from the community I felt there was a strong wish within the community to do it," Narang said.
"Clearly the interest was there but not sufficient."
While they could justify smaller numbers for the first year, taking into account that new programs can tend to draw fewer people, the interest wasn't there to justify continuing it for subsequent years especially in the penny-pinching climate of current school district budgets, she said.
Narang said it's possible that the proposed program wasn't what the advocates had been seeking, noting she received some comments suggesting it wasn't sufficient for their needs.
"We felt we were responding to what the community was asking for but maybe what the community was asking and what we were offering, there was a disconnect, I don't know."
The proposed Burnaby program was not immersion but was patterned after successful ones operating in New Westminster and some schools in Surrey. It was hoped that it would feed students to the growing Punjabi language program at Burnaby South secondary, she said.
"The program as it is in the current format won't be going forward but who knows, down the road there may be some different initiative that would come up that would work for the community."
With only months to go before the next civic election, it will be up to the next elected school board to consider the concept again in future, she said.