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Claire Penhorwood Headshot

Canada's Next Generation of Immigrants

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UNEQUAL EDUCATION REPORT
AP

Whenever someone asks me, "Where did you grow up?", I take a deep breath and usually say, "It's a long story... do you have 10 minutes?". I then launch into the story of telling them how I grew up in Toronto but moved to Beijing at age 10 because of my dad's job. From there, a seven-year stint in London, England brought me more culture and exposure to diverse people than I could have ever imagined.

That part of my life has really shaped me into who I am today and guides my views of the world. So, I find myself looking at some aspects of society differently than I would have had I grown up in my small hometown in Ontario. For example, I saw a Caucasian teenager on the subway the other day, and an East-Indian man sat down next to him. The teen looked at the man, moved slightly, and then promptly plastered himself up against the wall, so as to not touch this man.

I am not claiming that this teen was being racist by his blatant discomfort of sitting next to a man of a different race. I am simply saying that with the increasing level of competition between immigrants and Canadians for jobs, homes, money and resources, we should all be a little more tolerant.

In 2006, Toronto was home to 30 per cent of all recent immigrants and 20 per cent of all immigrants to Canada. Fast-forward to 2010 and Canada had a total of 280,000 immigrants. In Ontario alone, there are people from over 200 countries, who speak as many as 130 different languages. If that is not reason enough to educate youth on different cultures, than I don't know what is.

This education should start at a young age. Many kids are in the classroom with Canada's thousands of immigrants and mix with them from the start. The number of foreign students in Ontario has remained consistent with 62,266 in 2004 and 65,833 in 2008. But, for those that attend some of the white-majority schools, or are in areas of the country that have lower immigrants rates, tolerance should come out of character but also out of necessity.

Some believe that when most immigrants come to Canada, they have a drive and an appetite far more voracious than the average born-and-bred Canadian. Many are often the first of their family to come to Canada, and have far more to lose if they don't succeed. These students, workers and professionals are the competition for Canadians. If we can't accept them as equals out of the goodness of our heart, we need to start accepting them because they are equal to us, if not better in most professional disciplines.

Case in point: Canada's entrepreneurial leadership initiative program called The Next 36 aims to find the best and brightest kids in the country and turns them into the next great entrepreneurs. The Next 36 recruits 36 students each year and teaches them about leadership and entrepreneurship. Guess what? Many of the chosen students are recent immigrants with names like Gupta, Hosseinpour, Krishna and Sachdeva.

Program director of 'The Next 36', Claudia Hepburn, believes that multiculturalism means many good things for Canadian business. "The Next 36 hopes to expand our students' sense of what is possible. We give them a foundation of skills, aspirations and role models to help them achieve great things -- both for themselves and for Canada", she says. Hepburn states that roughly 50 per cent of students in the program are immigrants or visible minorities.

Another example of the push of immigrants to be bigger and better is Amy Chua, a.k.a Tiger Mother. This daughter of Chinese immigrants and Yale law professor is relentless with her own children, conditioning them to be the best of the best. Her rules include: no sleepovers, no play dates, no grade lower than an A on report cards, no choosing your own extracurricular activities, and so on. She is a self-proclaimed 'Chinese mother' who insists on hours upon hours of practice. She is not a 'Western mother', as she puts it in her book, who only requires her children to perform a half hour of practice on any given task per day.

While I don't agree with this tyrannical form of parenting and conditioning, I can't ignore the results it yields. Chua's oldest daughter has given piano performances at Carnegie Hall -- okay, impressive. Perhaps the 'Western mothers' out there and fathers alike don't have to go to these extremes, but should use this standard set by immigrants to rise up to the occasion even by a fraction. Canadian children and teens will face this competition at some point in their life, so why not prepare them for it sooner rather than later.