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School Directories Missing in Translation

October 10, 2013 3:47 pm Leave a comment By  | Via  
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Translated versions of the DOE's directories of public schools are only available online (unlike the English edition), making them difficult to access for immigrant families with little computer literacy. (Image from Arabic edition of the high school directory for Queens)

Translated versions of the DOE’s directories of public schools are only available online (unlike the English edition), making them difficult to access for immigrant families with little computer literacy. (Image from Arabic edition of the high school directory for Queens)

New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) offers directories of the city’s public schools that give students and their families overviews of the approximately 1,800 schools in the system. But not all New Yorkers can easily access them, since printed copies of the guide only exist in English. Translated versions are available online, but for many immigrant families, that’s little help, reports GothamSchools‘ Emma Sokoloff-Rubin.

The city provides translations of the “phone-book sized” directories in the nine most-spoken languages after English – Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu – but these guides are only found on the DOE’s website. For immigrant families with little technological experience, the digital versions are difficult to access and that “creates a barrier for parents whose access to information is already limited,” say parents, school officials and immigrant advocates:

“This sends a message that people who don’t speak English aren’t as important, because the guide isn’t available to them in the same way,” said Elsa Cruz Pearson, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project [of the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New York].

The printed versions were not always monolingual. It was only a few years ago that parents could still obtain physical copies of translated versions.

The department stopped printing copies of translated directories after the 2007-2008 school year. For a time, it distributed disks with translated guides but now simply makes them available for download online.

That can be a problem for immigrant families, said Pearson, who has gotten calls from families seeking translated directories. “Many immigrant parents are not computer literate,” she said. “They don’t have a computer in the home where they can jump on and start downloading guides in their languages.”

Those who can access the translated editions online might face another set of problems – actually finding the most updated version or encountering missing parts.

And the translated guides are not always completed quickly or easy to find once they are released. As of this week, the high school directory page on the department’s website includes a link to last year’s translations, while this year’s translations can be found on a different page. And 18 out of 63 sections are still missing, including the Manhattan section in Spanish; four parts of the Arabic section, including the introduction; and the entire Urdu version.

A department spokesman said translations were made available earlier this year than in past years, and that the remaining translations would be released soon. He said that the formatting of the directory can be particularly hard to replicate in languages, such as Urdu, whose letters are written right to left.

With some parents calling schools asking for translations, schools have tried to help out. Megan Moskop is a teacher and high school coordinator at a Washington Heights middle school, one of the schools that has printed out a few copies of the translated directories to offer parents.

But that can’t happen until they are available, which is after the English guide is released — something Moskop said gives English-speaking families an automatic leg up in the school selection process.

Pearson offered another suggestion for making translated printed copies available.

She said the department should at least make bound copies available in the borough enrollment offices, schools, and district offices, using data that already exist to identify which languages non-English speaking parents are most likely to speak in each district.

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