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Satwinder Bains is a Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley and the Director of the Centre for Indo Canadian Studies. Her research interests and expertise include Indo Canadian Cultural Studies, Sikh studies, migration, settlement and citizenship, diaspora studies and cross-cultural education. Satwinder has over thrity years of work experience in community development and has worked extensively with women, youth and families from the South Asian community in BC. She is a consummate community advocate and volunteer and has assisted numerous community organizations develop and grow.
My field of work is migration studies and Diaspora studies of the South Asian community. I am interested in settlement/pioneer histories/protest movements and cultural production.
Language-as-a-resource (Ruiz, 1988) theory has been an underlying philosophy of my professional and voluntary work with immigrant families in British Columbia over the last twenty years. However, this philosophy and belief has frequently conflicted with the educators’ philosophy in schools that viewed any first language other than English or French as a knowledge deficit for students, rather than an asset (language-as-a-problem). Some teachers in the past and even today hold the belief that the faster a child whose first language is not English, learns English, the better it will be for his/her success, blaming the mother tongue and victimizing the child. A minority culture’s language thrown in the mix is seen as detrimental to the child’s learning (Skutnabb-Kangas & Cummins, 1988; Danesi, 1991). In fact, this practice “violates children’s right to an appropriate education and undermines communication between children and their parents” (Cummins, 2003, p, 2). Thus, in overt and covert ways it is made clear that it is better if the “other” language is not seen or heard on the school grounds or in the classroom even going so far as requesting minimal use in the home by the parents. This has created a real dichotomy for children who begin to believe that their language is inferior to English, start to deny their heritage, ridicule their parents for speaking it and over time stop speaking it themselves. “Various “scientific” explanations were suggested as to why minority students tended to perform poorly at school; for example confusion in thinking due to bilingualism, cultural deprivation and even genetic inferiority” (Cummins, 1984, p. 103).
It came as a surprise to me that such negative views about certain languages existed in BC since I had grown up in India very naturally learning three languages. A national policy called the ‘Three Language Formula’ allowed most educated children this opportunity. I had learned and believed that people with many languages had a rich and transferable knowledge capital. I became interested in how minority students’ success might be impacted by a pedagogy that promotes minority community languages in a dominant Canadian school culture in Canada. Using a sociocultural theoretical framework, I suggest that minority students’ education benefits when their social reality and cultural space is mediated through their mother language and incorporated as an integral component of the school curriculum.