Special Report
Equity & Diversity

School, Community Backing Bolsters Immigrant Students

By Nirvi Shah & Sean Cavanagh — January 09, 2012 2 min read
A student takes an after-school Urdu class at the Crescent Town Public School, in Toronto.

Every morning, 3-year-old Keerthika Gnaneshan visits the Crescent Town Public School, located on the southeast side of this city, where she plays games, sings songs, and participates in other activities that build her reading and numeracy skills.

She comes with her mother, Sri Lanka native Sithra Gnaneshan, who says she knows it is critical for her children to learn English. Gnaneshan also took her older daughter, who now attends Crescent Town, to the same literacy program a few years ago.

The school serves an economically disadvantaged and diverse population of students who speak more than 50 different languages. The Gnaneshan family’s first language is Tamil.

“They have to learn everything in English in school, and to communicate,” the mother says. “They know the mother tongue [but] they can’t do it here. ... It’s the main thing for them, the language.”

The center, which encourages parents to use those activities with their children at home, is characteristic of how Canada works with immigrant students and their families. The country is one of the few where immigrant students have access to at least the same or greater resources at school as do native students.

Canada’s immigration policies encourage educated professionals to come to the country. And, because Canada admits immigrants to fill specific economic needs, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development noted in a 2011 report, they generally aren’t seen as a threat. For them to thrive means Canada thrives. The country, historically a blend of English- and French-speaking cultures, has opened its doors to new arrivals from other backgrounds.

Terry Cui, 13, immigrated to Canada with his parents as a child from Chengdu, China. He attends the high-performing David Lewis Public School in Toronto. Many of his classmates are Chinese immigrants or the sons or daughters of immigrants.

See Also

Read about efforts to help foreign-born students and children learning new languages in this Quality Counts 2012 article: “Educating Immigrant Students a Challenge in U.S., Elsewhere”

Terry speaks Mandarin at home, and he says his English skills have steadily improved over the years, thanks to increasing doses of English-language training he received, and through conversation with classmates and teachers. Today, he speaks in English with confidence and clarity.

Terry said his parents didn’t have the same opportunities he did. He’s in the school math club, on the volleyball team, and plays with a school rock band. He wants to attend the University of Toronto, or McGill University, in Montreal, and become a cardiovascular surgeon. He says his parents encourage his ambitions.

“They say anything is fine as long as I’m successful,” Terry says. “They say that back in their day, they couldn’t do anything like that.”

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