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Technological setbacks and more make online learning a challenge for new immigrants

Last Updated Feb 22, 2021 at 7:12 pm EDT

MONTREAL (CityNews) – While some people made a smooth transition to working or going to school online during the pandemic, technological setbacks and the unconventional approach to learning are making things very difficult for others.

For Quebec immigrants enrolled in government-sanctioned French classes, the online experience has been anything but straightforward.

“They need to have computers, and good computers,” said Luis Miguel Cristancho, the director of Bienvenue NDG. “There’s a lot of audio and video running in the program. Sometimes the computers, they are not good enough, and the internet not good enough.

Bienvenue NDG is one of many Montreal-based organizations helping newcomers integrate in Quebec society. A big part of that includes learning French – the province’s official language.

But online learning is proving a real challenge for some. About 15 per cent of Bienvenue NDG’s French class students dropped out last semester.

“Students are getting frustrated and they decided just to quit,” said Cristancho. “Abandon the course. And for us, it’s really a shame.

“Some of the participants think it’s not efficient.”

Meanwhile the Quebec government has now decided to keep the upcoming spring session online as the pandemic continues.

“One of the things we can ask (the government) is to offer new programs to have access to internet in a low cost with a good quality,” said Cristancho. “Could help a lot of the families so they don’t have to choose between diapers, formula or internet.”

For Weiwei Sun, a Chinese immigrant who moved to Montreal three years ago, internet connection is not the issue. But the absence of in-person teaching and physical books is proving hard to overcome.

“Sometimes I don’t understand what they are saying on the radio, so if we had the books or something else, I could understand,” said Sun. “I know teachers want the people to understand, but most times, (there are) so many words I don’t understand.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating the issue for Sun and her daughter, who cannot communicate with others in French as often as she would like because in-person interaction is at an all-time low due to fears related to the virus.

“With COVID-19 we cannot go out and communicate with my neighbourhood,” she said.

In a statement to CityNews, the province’s immigration ministry acknowledged the challenges posed by virtual schooling.

“The ministry recognizes that this form of education is more difficult for immigrants with little education. Thus, the majority of the courses offered at the beginner level as well as the courses intended for students with little education take place in person when possible.”