Teacher shortage puts popular Mandarin program in danger, parent warns
'I think everything's been spread too thin,' says one parent
Parents at a Vancouver elementary school are worried a shortage of qualified teachers could threaten the future of their children's Mandarin language education.
Barbara Lee's two children are part of the bilingual program at John Norquay Elementary School, where she says the administration has been scrambling to make sure students get their promised 50-per-cent instruction time in Mandarin.
"I think everything's been spread too thin," Lee said. "They say they have enough teachers, but everyone's been spread out just to make the minimum, and there are things that are falling through the cracks."
The Norquay early Mandarin bilingual program has been hugely popular since it began in 2011. Right now, 193 children are enrolled, and there's a lottery every year for new students.
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) advertises the program as placing students with teachers capable of switching between Mandarin and English, depending on the subject,.
But the current reality is a bit different. This year, a physical education position, which was supposed to be filled by a Mandarin-speaking teacher, was given to someone who is only qualified to teach in English, Lee said.
Meanwhile, two recent maternity leaves have resulted in a part-time resource teacher getting pulled into full-time instruction, and a Mandarin-speaking teacher covering the language requirements for two classes while an English-speaking teacher fills in the gaps.
Lee said she wanted her children to learn Mandarin at a young age, so they'll have a valuable skill when they eventually enter the workplace, but she doesn't believe the school board is prepared to give the program the resources it needs.
"I've always been hopeful and that's why my children are still in the program, but I'm very disappointed with how little foresight they've put into this program when it's so popular," she said.
But Adrian Keough, the VSB's director of instruction for educational programs, told CBC News he's confident the board will have enough teachers to fill future needs.
"We're able to meet the current programs that we are offering, and we are recruiting regularly for many specialities, including Mandarin," he said.
About 1,000 Vancouver students are currently enrolled in the VSB's various Mandarin language programs, according to Keough.
He acknowledged, however, that there's a very small pool of teachers qualified to do instruction in Mandarin, and there's a huge need for educators of all kinds right now.
"Across the specialty areas, we are having more challenges in Mandarin," he said. "Across the province, there's a huge demand for teachers, which is kind of unprecedented, but we certainly are bringing on new Mandarin teachers as they qualify."
Still, Barbara Lee worries that her children will leave the public school system without the language skills she'd hoped for.
"They really haven't done much to ensure that the kids are going to hit a certain level of Mandarin proficiency, and that, to me, is the saddest part," she said.
With files from Megan Batchelor