Decision to cut $225K grant to language schools stirs up petition

An organization representing about 80 language schools and programs in Saskatchewan has started a petition calling on the provincial government to reverse its decision to pull $225,000 in grant funding to them.

80 language schools have depended on government grant for the past 25 years

Language schools will no longer receive a government grant that had been provided for the past 25 years. (Amrita Mosale)

A petition has surfaced in the Queen City calling on the Ministry of Education to reverse its decision to pull funding to 80 language schools in Saskatchewan.

In March, the Saskatchewan Organization for Heritage Languages (SOHL) said they received notification the Ministry of Education was pulling a $225,000 grant, which had been provided for the past 25 years, due to less than favourable economic conditions in the province.

SOHL operates 80 heritage language schools and organizations and they teach about 40 languages at schools in Regina, Saskatoon and elsewhere in the province.

Now a petition spear-headed by SOHL is circulating calling on the ministry to reinstate funding for language schools and they're looking for signatures, according to Tamara Ruzic, executive director of SOHL.

"I could understand if we're talking about millions of dollars here ... but we're talking about $225,000 that benefited over 80 non-profit organizations," Ruzic told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition. "This cut, to be blunt, has been a slap in the face to the dedicated volunteers who have been doing this for 25 years."

Ruzic said the grant money allowed SOHL to give volunteer teachers an honorarium, as well as pay for school supplies, transportation and — in some cases — lunches for students. With the grant money being pulled, she said it's likely many of the weekend language schools will end.

"I think a lot of them will continue the best they can but I am afraid some of the smaller ones, the ones that don't have a lot of money— the newer ones — they might shut down," Ruzic said.
Executive director of the Saskatchewan Organization for Heritage Languages says the province should not be cutting language schools at a time when more immigrants are moving to Saskatchewan. (Abby Schneider/CBC)

Losing language schools equals loss of culture 

Sabine Wecker is a teacher and coordinator at Regina's German Language School. To her, no grant money from the province means her school will need to impose fees.

Losing the school, she said, would mean the loss of something much greater than a language skill.

"German language is part of my history. My kids are German-Canadians, so I think it's important for children to have roots and to grow up with a sense of belonging and language is connected to culture," Wecker said. "It's so frustrating to hear language learning is not in the ministry's mandate."

Wecker said the amount of money involved is "minimal to the ministry" but highly valued by the schools.

Ruzic echoed Wrecker's concerns, adding language education is more in demand because of the influx of newcomers — especially immigrants — to Saskatchewan.

"Canada prides itself on multiculturalism and our government shouldn't be sending the message that this is not important here," she said.

Teaching languages should be up to parents

In March, Saskatchewan's Minister of Education Don Morgan said the heritage language schools make the province a culturally rich and diverse place, but said the decision to cut funding was made for economic reasons.  
In March Education Minister Don Morgan said language teaching and learning is something that should be left to parents. (CBC)

"This was a difficult decision made in light of the current economic situation in our province," Morgan said.

According to the Ministry of Education, the heritage language program funding amounts to $4.58 per student each month.

Morgan said language learning and preservation is something that can be provided by parents.

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition