March 7th, 2018. It’s around 6 p.m., and I’m waiting for the bus. I’m listening to the angriest music I can find on my phone; at the time, that was Master of Puppets by Metallica. I turn up the volume and scowl at the window, despite the beautiful blue sky and the sunlight streaming through it.
I had just gotten a text from my friend, who announced to me that my and my classmates’ request for additional levels of Chinese lessons to be added to our program had been denied. The sight of those words was like a punch to the stomach, for multiple reasons.
Let me give you a quick recap of the situation: I’m in the ALC Languages program, studying Spanish and Chinese. I’m in my second semester, so that means I’m in my second level of both languages. The way the program works is that, for the two first semesters, you study two languages; for the third and fourth, you pick one of those and carry it to the fourth level.
However, only Spanish, German and Italian are taught until the fourth level; the other languages, being Chinese, Hebrew and Greek, are only taught till the first two levels.
It’s a shame I didn’t know that when I applied, considering one of the only reasons I did was to learn Chinese.
You see, when I consulted the Dawson Languages profile webpage a year ago, the languages were all listed together, with no distinction between which were taught until the fourth level, and which weren’t. If you check now, you’ll notice that distinction has now been added; but a year ago, without that obvious disclaimer, the idea didn’t even cross my mind that there could be some languages which weren’t taught completely, and I didn’t bother to look at the list of courses offered.
Those who did however, were greeted with a list of language classes and their descriptions, including Chinese 3 and 4 – the latter of which was, strangely, lacking a description. But no one thought anything of it.
When we found out about Chinese not being offered completely, my classmates and I were determined to get the additional levels. At the very start of the Winter 2018 semester, we signed a Course Request Form and sent it to the dean for her to evaluate the possibility of adding the course with the relevant people. We were told that a minimum of eight Language students needed to sign for it to be considered; we had fourteen. We were all so happy, already congratulating ourselves for getting the class we all wanted to take so badly. The Chinese course had even been added on our Progression Charts for the third and fourth semesters, so we all just thought something along the lines of “They’re still just setting it all up. We’ll get the course … Right?”
A month or so passed, with no answer to our query. Rumors of midterm being the deadline for new courses to be integrated into the program surfaced here and there, and we became nervous, which pushed us to send messages to certain key people in the process, asking for news. Which was when we got our answer: it wasn’t going to happen.
We all wanted this for numerous reasons, mostly because we love the class and the language; but we also were all planning to pursue careers in which we need these skills in Chinese. Be it for diplomacy or foreign relations or teaching or translating or anything, we had all counted on taking these classes as fundamental building blocks for our futures. Chinese is a huge asset, and the fact it’s such a fun class only adds to our passion for it.
Isn’t education about opening your pupils’ horizons, helping them grow and letting them learn the things that make them happy? Isn’t the motivation and commitment of your students and their teachers all that you need to install a course in a program?
Turns out, it’s not.
Which leads us back to me moping around, waiting for the bus, listening to heavy metal way too loudly for it to be healthy.
Fast forward two-three weeks: March 24th, 2018. The day I’m writing this, sitting in my room, hoping against hope that I’ll be able to make a change.
My classmates and I have contacted and met with program coordinators, with the dean, and with the ombudsman to discuss this issue. They’ve been nothing but sympathetic, and have given much of their time to talk with us. But, despite all of their kindness and their willingness to help us, we keep hitting wall after wall. When we first signed that Course Request Form, our obstacle was the number of students; then it became not really being aware of the status of our request; then it became time until a deadline; now it’s the administration and even the ministry of Education.
Now, I know that adding a new course to a program is an extremely complex and extremely long process. It can mess up scheduling and it needs to respect all of these ministerial requirements. There’s a limit to the number of courses which can be in a program, so if you add one, another one needs to go; but even if deciding which class to remove was an easy decision to make, there’s still the matter of providing permanent teachers with an appropriate course load – even if their course only has three students in it, you can’t just take away their job.
A few days ago, a meeting was organized to discuss this “Chinese issue”; in a few weeks, another, bigger, meeting will be held by the department. Right now, we’re all just waiting to see how it goes.
Despite all of these complications and obstacles in our way, my classmates and I have been fighting relentlessly to be heard – and I think we have been. Regardless of the results of this issue, I think that we’ve all learned something from this experience: that, despite the odds, and no matter what happens, it’s worth it to fight for your right to grow and bloom, and that there’s always a chance you might succeed, after all.