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Persian speakers aiming to add Farsi to B.C. public school language curriculum

(via Adrian Lam/Times Colonist)

Students in British Columbia's public schools could have another option for language studies, if a new campaign is successful.

The Farsi Dar B.C. campaign is aiming for Farsi, also called Persian, to be added to the list of nine languages included in the Education Ministry's policy covering second-language requirements for Grades 5 through 8.

Farsi is spoken in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and some Persian Gulf states, and the latest Canadian census shows it is the mother tongue of more than 43,000 residents in B.C.

More than 28,000 people in the province consider it their first language at home.

Amir Bajehkian, founding member of Farsi Dar B.C., considers those numbers low.

"A lot of the people here, they don't really declare their language in the Stats Canada census," he said in an interview.

"We believe that is more like 70- to 90,000 Iranians and 20- to 30,000 Afghans just in the Lower Mainland."

But even at the lower estimates, the census data show Farsi is spoken more frequently in B.C. than French, German, Italian, Spanish or Japanese.

Those five languages, as well as Mandarin, Punjabi, Korean and American Sign Language, are included in the list of languages approved for the B.C. school curriculum, and Bajehkian said it's time Farsi was also acknowledged as well.

"It's kind of heartbreaking to see kids who were born here cannot really learn the language as much as they would love to."

Adding the language to the B.C. curriculum would also be a small step toward sharing a long and respected history," he said.

"The non-Persian speaking community does not get the opportunity to get to know the culture, heritage and literature as much as I think it deserves," Bajehkian said, adding Farsi was a key part of the Mughal empires that ruled the Indian sub-continent for over 300 years, ending in the mid-1800s.

"For a period it was the official language of the Mughal courts in India. Many of the elders of the Punjabi community still speak the language and can recite poetry in Persian."

Some local school board representatives, provincial politicians and municipal election candidates turned out Sunday at a public information session to support adding Farsi to the language policy, Bajehkian said.

Members of the Farsi Dar B.C. campaign also met with Education Minister Rob Fleming last year.

The next step is to assess interest locally and gather numbers of students who might enrol, especially in specific districts, Bajehkian said.

– The Canadian Press