Dear Ms Fraser and Ms Chan-Pedley,
I am a parent at Dr. Annie B. Jamieson Elementary School and I am writing to express my concerns about recent changes that are negatively affecting the future of the Mandarin Bilingual Program.
As you are aware, Jamieson’s Mandarin program pioneered Mandarin language education in elementary schools 25 years ago. Since then it has thrived and been recognized locally and even internationally. It runs from Grades 4 to 7 and continues at Eric Hamber Secondary.
Last year, the Mandarin program underwent drastic changes without consultation or communication that resulted in two negative outcomes: fewer spaces available in the Mandarin program, and a learning environment now more challenging for students and teachers.
The dramatic reduction of students was due to an increase in applications for Kindergarten spaces, and a shortage of classroom space at South Hill where our school was temporarily relocated during seismic upgrade. This resulted in fewer Mandarin classes, five divisions in the past, reduced to four divisions in 2018-2019. Since then, Jamieson has returned to its original school site. But in-catchment enrolment and classroom space continue to be of great concern as the Cambie corridor is redeveloped with higher density residential projects.
To make matters worse, the program’s application requirements were abruptly changed last year, eliminating the assessment process, and done without warning to parents, students, or teachers. The assessment was integral for the success of students because it determined two things: does the student have strong enough English language skills to forgo a block of Language Arts and receive an additional block of Mandarin class? Secondly, is the student’s Mandarin literacy too advanced to benefit from the program?
The program’s objective is to offer enriched language arts in a learning environment designed to help students succeed in Mandarin and in their core curriculum. The assessment facilitated the creation of the best learning experience, an optimal teaching environment for the few specialized teachers, and the fairest delivery of a district program.
Currently the no-assessment process depends entirely on a lottery to determine admission, irrespective of a student’s literacy skills and educational needs. Applicants who previously would not have been eligible – due to their weak English language skills or are Mandarin speakers already – are now admitted under the lottery system. Both only serve to create a wider gulf among students at both ends of the spectrum, creating challenges for learners and teachers alike.
I am greatly concerned that these changes may cause irreparable harm to the Mandarin program. I ask that the program be brought back to its full size. Please reverse these admission changes and engage parents and teachers in planning of the Mandarin program. We want to ensure the long-term success of this program which has enriched the Jamieson school and wider community for so many years.
Scott MacDonald, Deputy Minister of Education
Suzanne Hoffman, Superintendent, Vancouver School Board
Natasha Miladinovic, Principal, Dr Annie B Jamieson Elementary