Hello, Bonjour, Guten Tag, Nǐ Hǎo… Second language instruction in Edmonton Public Schools

When it comes to public education, Edmontonians speak with many voices. Over the past few months of door-knocking, I’ve had thousands of conversations about everything imaginable. Overwhelmingly, people have wanted to tell me about the important relationship between their school and their community, but I’ve also heard about school fees, the future of textbooks, and everything in between!

Well, not only do Edmontonians speak with many voices – they also speak in many languages. One issue I have discussed many times is second language instruction. I know a lot of voters, taxpayers, administrators, and bureaucrats look at language courses and bilingual immersion as luxury programs that cater only to niche demographics. I disagree. The opportunity for children to learn other languages – and learn inother languages – improves student outcomes and enriches our city’s economy and culture.

The educational research is quite clear: second language instruction has tremendous benefits for students. It improves the learner’s linguistic and meta-linguistic abilities. Second language instruction develops cognitive functions, concept formation, and critical thinking skills. It expands memory and it actually improves the learner’s understanding of their first language too. These are the very competencies the provincial government has identified as the goal of the 21st education system, and I am confident second language education has an important role to play in the future of Edmonton Public Schools.

Second language instruction also has a tremendous social value, both while children are students and when they mature into adult citizens. One dimension of this social value is cultural. Second languages open doors, hearts, and minds to other cultures. This builds cultural understanding and appreciation in a time when Edmonton is rapidly becoming a cosmopolitan, global city. One of public education’s most important functions is producing tolerant, accepting citizens that contribute to Edmonton’s strong multi-cultural society and democratic tradition. More than ever before, second language instruction will help Edmonton Public Schools fulfill one of its most fundamental purposes.

The social value of second language instruction also has an economic dimension. It has been demonstrated that graduates with second languages enjoy increased job opportunities. As our province increasingly participates in the global economy, second languages will grow as an asset for many careers. In fact, language skills that once were nice to have but not absolutely necessary will increasingly become an essential skill for Albertans to compete in the global marketplace. Edmonton Public Schools needs to do its part in preparing our future workforce for the evolution of our economy, and second language instruction will have an important role in this process.

So how do we decide which languages are taught in Edmonton Public Schools, and how do we chose which languages will form their own immersion programs? This is where the role of the trustee is crucial. Parents, communities, and businesses have the best sense of Edmonton’s educational, cultural, and economic needs. They need a trustee that will continue work hard to listen to what they are saying and bring their ideas to the board table. I will continue to work hard for the people of Ward F!

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