Jan. 19, 2017

Growth in dual language programs highlights cultural shift in education

Christine Cheung, principal of the Highwood School
Christine Cheung
Christine Cheung

No doubt about it, the world is shrinking.

Between the ability to communicate with anyone at any time through a range of technologies to the movement of people across borders and around the world, accessing different peoples and cultures is becoming more and more common.

With this merging and melding of people often comes the desire to either retain part of the culture of one’s birth, or to learn more about another.

In the case of education, the development of dual language schools has grown significantly over the years.  In the Calgary Board of Education, for example, the number of schools offering language and cultural bilingual instruction has grown significantly: ten years ago, six schools offered dual language instruction; today, there are 17 schools in the CBE offering bilingual programs in three languages (German, Mandarin and Spanish), in addition to 24 French immersion schools.

“Dual language programs provide children opportunities to learn in and about other languages and cultures, says Christine Cheung.  “In a multicultural society, building understanding and common experiences strengthens relationships, and studies have also shown the benefits to the brain in learning a second language that promotes memory, creative thinking and problem solving.”

Cheung is the principal of the Highwood School, a bilingual elementary school focusing on Chinese (Mandarin), and she has experienced the expansion of the dual language program first hand. 

Cheung, who is also currently a doctoral student in the Werklund School of Education, earned her undergraduate degree (BEd) at UCalgary in 1998, followed by her Master’s in Education (MEd) in 2006, began her career an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, and then moved throughout various programs focused on language learning before taking the helm at Highwood.

Throughout the years, Cheung has seen a significant increase in demand for dual language schools, and she says that often this shift has been attributed to how globalized the world has become.  “Parents want to equip their children with the language and culture that will likely put them ahead of their monolingual peers,” she explains.  “Looking into the future, they see knowing additional languages as being huge assets that will put their child ahead.”

“Additionally, I have also seen second and third generation Canadian parents seek out the bilingual programs in the hope that their children will learn the language and culture that they themselves lost.  For many, it is the opportunity to have their children better connect, communicate, and relate to their grandparents and great grandparents.”

Cheung’s doctoral studies focus on Educational Leadership, with a specific emphasis on what leadership qualities are required to strengthen the dual language programs.

“I have chosen to focus my EdD work in this area because I see the challenges we’ve faced in the past few years—mostly due to the accelerated interest, growth and popularity in these programs.”

“I hope to look at ways to ensure that the programs are keeping up with global changes, expectations and trends to ensure that we are always at the leading edge in providing students with a top-notch bilingual educational experience. 

“Finding leaders who understand the culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy that is necessary to ensure program integrity and success is key.”