The Covid pandemic has affected our way of life in every aspect and families are trying to navigate their children back to school. However, this period offers a chance to innovate our education system. The virtual learning opportunities, as the Saturday International Program, which includes a Portuguese course, can be brought to more students than before.
To understand more about the education model today and the opportunities to explore Portuguese as a second language, Manuel DaCosta interviewed Norbert Costa for Here’s The Thing (Camões TV).
Norbert has dedicated his life to education. His understanding of the school system has been enriched by being a teacher, representing the school administration as a Vice-Principal and later as a Principal. Today he is the Centrally Assigned Principal in Continuing Education in the Toronto District School Board.
Manuel DaCosta: How are you coping with Covid and the challenges of implementing programs at a time where there’s chaos in all aspects of our lives?
Norbert Costa: It’s certainly a challenge but being an educator and lifelong learner, you have two options: either look at it as a challenge or as an opportunity. My colleagues, the Toronto School Board and myself are choosing to see it as an opportunity to learn, to continue to provide education in a different way. It’s an opportunity to embrace the technology and in the end, our focus is our student’s success.
MDC: Considering the implementation of new technology, staff reassignment and many other measures, once the pandemic is over, do you think we will ever go back to the ‘normal’ way of doing things in the education sector?
MDC: Personally, I don’t think we will go back to the old ways due to all technology implemented and safety aspects. Over the last 50 years, I’ve never seen such a radical change on how we approach things. We are trying to change people’s behaviors and that must not be easy, I’m sure the School Board has come across its challenges as they try to insert the students in various categories and systems.
NC: It is a challenge. We work with the Minister of Education and the Toronto Public Health to ensure the safety of all our students. We do the best we can. In 10 years, when we look back, this is definitely something that will be impactful in history, not just for Toronto or Canada, but for the world. The challenges we are facing will impact how we teach and how we learn.
MDC: Teachers are concerned about their safety, about their placement to teach and how thigs are being implemented. Do you think the government and the unions have been reasonable to teachers? Giving them the proper tools to teach, to put programs in place and to teach effectively?
NC: There has been a lot of thought and process put in place to ensure the safety of all our staff and students. I know they are working close with the Toronto Public Health, so I’m sure all public safety measures are being put in place.
MDC: I would also like to talk about the Portuguese culture in the Toronto School Board. Many people may not be aware of the variety of programs within the TDSB that teach Portuguese as a second language. On Milénio’s Stadium last edition, we discussed the Portuguese culture, how it has evolved and the expectations for the future. How do you view the Portuguese culture in Canada?
NC: I’m very proud to be Portuguese, I think there’s a lot of pride in our community from generations of immigrants and the hard work that has been done. I think there’s opportunities to continue to grow and develop our Portuguese culture. At the Toronto School Board, we have a partnership with Instituto Camões which consists of an agreement to support the Portuguese language. We offer Portuguese language opportunities from kindergarten to grade 12 and even after school programs for adults. Our mandate as a School Board is to provide those learning opportunities for all languages as long as there’s enough registrations. We are very excited to offer our Saturday International Program, from 9am to 12pm. This year is virtual and at the moment we are offering 19 languages, including Portuguese.
The challenge we have is that the program only runs when there’s enough interest and registrations.
MDC: One of my critics last week, was that we don’t have enough educators that step up to the plate to teach and promote our Portuguese language. I’m glad that you are supporting this program because in reality we don’t hear much about what’s happening in the teaching of Portuguese in Canada. Considering that even the schools that are teaching Portuguese, they are having financial issues, so I’m glad to see public institutions, as the TDSB are doing it. The course on Saturdays, is that something new?
NC: We started our Saturday International Credit Program three years ago. Each year we have offered Portuguese, but it hasn’t run for a variety of reasons. We are hoping this will be the year we get it running. Sometimes families feel intimidated around taking Portuguese, but this is meant to be open to everyone. Once you finish the course, you get credits that count towards your Ontario School Diploma.
MDC: What are the pre-requisites to participate in this Saturday Program?
NC: The program is available to any student in Ontario that is currently between grade 9 and 12. It’s done in Portuguese but there will be occasions for English support as well. It’s meant to be an introduction to the language across the world and the whole Portuguese diaspora. There’s no cost, the program is fully funded by the Minister of Education.
The registration ends Friday, October 9th. It should be done online on www.creditprograms.ca. If it’s your first time, you just need to create a profile. You can be any student from the Province of Ontario, either from a public or private school, so you could be in Ottawa and sign up for the Portuguese course because it’s virtual. You don’t need to have a Portuguese background. Classes start on October 17th and go until June.
Once the registration period ends, we will determinate the viability of the course based on registration.
MDC: We need Portuguese participation, specially from students, otherwise our culture will slowly erode. This course will provide an opportunity to learn a language and integrate in the Lusophony countries. We have 250 million people in the world that are influenced by Portuguese culture, it’s a very important language and more and more, others are interested to learn it for business or travel purposes.
NC: I recall seeing it online that Portuguese is the seventh most spoken language in the world. If you think about preparation for post-high school and into the business world, certainly having a second language as part of your tool kit is a big advantage. You may not speak the language 100% like they would in that country that speaks Portuguese as an official language. However, you would be able to communicate and understand the culture. In many parts of the world, by the time students graduate they are fluent in two, three languages, and sometimes even more. For us, as Portuguese, is not only about the value in the work world, but the value it brings to our culture, the connection to our roots. I can speak from personal experience, when I was in school my parents advocate for me to take Portuguese until grade 9, after that I didn’t pursued it any further in high school but reconnected with it once I was in university and took a Portuguese course. I can’t tell you how often the fact that I could read, understand and speak Portuguese has been an advantage to me in my personal life and in my career.
MDC: Or even to communicate with family, specially grandparents, which most people can’t do. I have that situation in my family. It’s a shame people don’t make a little bit of an effort to learn a language that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
NC: Definitely, this is an opportunity. Our intent is to provide an atmosphere to learn the language, learn about the culture and also connecting with other students that are Portuguese descendent or are interested in the Portuguese culture. We are very optimistic they will have enough people interested to run the program.
MDC: We, as Portuguese, are incredible people, hardworking, we are discoverers but when it comes to taking the extra step, we seem to have that mentality that we conform to a certain thing without pursuing higher education. If there’s not enough students, TDSB may thing the Portuguese don’t participate and cancel the program. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but let’s not do with education what we do it politics, because that way we will never gain the power we need.
NC: Speaking from my perspective, this is an opportunity. I have a really good feeling we will be successful this time around. We have never done this before, which is a good start, and hopefully the viewers will see the value of it and encourage students to do it. In this climate of virtual learning, it’s a good opportunity to take a program where you can get a degree. This year we are starting with level 1 and next year, those students will move to a level 2. Once you get to level 3, you can use that as one of your credit courses to apply to university and college. In the meantime, you are getting a credit that will help with the total accumulation of credits to graduate. Besides, if you have some understanding of the language, you are already ahead of the game. We are hoping the students do well. It’s about their language, their culture, but most important their success in high school.
MDC: The fact that is virtual makes it a lot easier to do. This can be the start of something bigger.
NC: I agree. This is an opportunity to develop a strong basis to share the culture and the language and provide opportunities to all students.
MDC: I look at York U and all of these universities that have Portuguese programs, but the number of Portuguese students that actually take the course seem to be less and less. What do you think causes our Portuguese brain not to push for education?
NC: I do think we have a lot of really good examples of success of Portuguese in education. Specifically to languages, each person needs to take a role and initiative in how we support that. Another personal example… I have a daughter in the second year in university, she’s taking Portuguese first year and now second year as well, she’s had an opportunity not only to learn the language but also the culture and history. I didn’t push her to take the course, it was an option for her. That initiative has to come from the individual.
Our role as education institutions is to provide these opportunities for students, now they have to take the advantage and enroll in the program.
MDC: As an educator, what do you consider we could to better in our community to promote education?
NC: As a community we need to look at the opportunities provided by education. We need to continue to celebrate the successes we already have. I haven’t seen recent studies regarding the achievement factors of Portuguese students. It’s very incumbent of parents to be involved in their children education right from the very beginning. We always look at the partnership between the parents, the student and the school. Of course, the school plays a very important role in developing the child from kindergarten to grade 12 but it’s also important to have that partnership between the parents and students. They need to provide opportunities of learning at home – reading, writing and math – doing them with the students. As you pointed, Portuguese people seem to be very curious and adventurous, thus share that with our children. Also, being involved in parents/teacher interviews. When your child is not doing well in one class, don’t wait for the report card to realise that struggle.
Transcrição: Inês Carpinteiro