The Ontario government is allowing some elementary school students to be taught in Mandarin and Arabic by going around requirements that demand classes to be taught in English and French the official languages of Canada.
Chinese students at Prince Philip Elementary School in Hamilton are taught Mandarin 50% of the time from junior kindergarten to Grade 3, school officials said, adding as many as 100 others from F. W. Begley Public School in Windsor receive half of their education in Arabic also until Grade 3 before transitioning to English, school officials said.
"This is a very popular program with the Arabic community," said Scott Scantlebury, of the Greater Essex County District School Board. "We are the only school in Ontario with an Arabic language program."
He said the pilot language project has been in place for about eight years and it stemmed from a large Arabic population in the area.
Scantlebury said the program allows children to better communicate their school work or other issues with their parents.
An official of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board said 50% of the pre-Grade 3 students are taught Mandarin, which is spoken by most Chinese.
"The program has been going on for years and it has been well received," the official said. "Ways are being sought to expand the language programs further."
A former worker with the Ontario ministry of education said all public schools in Ontario have to be taught in English and French.
The worker said Ontario education officials are getting around the French and English language bans by designating Arabic and Mandarin as "pilot" programs.
Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky could not be reached for comment Wednesday on the issue of accommodating faith in Ontario schools.
"There are two pilot projects in place in Ontario to help students in their transition from their first language to English-language proficiency," her spokesperson Mike Feenstra said in an e-mail, about Begley Public School in Windsor Essex and Prince Philip Elementary in Hamilton Wentworth.