Studies have shown there are distinct advantages of children learning a second language from a young age. Some parents say that it is strange that, in a country with a rich francophone tradition, some kids are missing out in what is literally an educational lottery.
With some parents in Victoria camping overnight to try secure a place for their child in French Immersion and a lottery in School District 63, some parents and educational groups are angry at the lack of provision.
“We’ve been saying for years it is unacceptable to be turned away from the life-changing opportunity of learning another language,” said Glyn Lewis, executive director of Canadian Parents for French in British Columbia and Yukon. “It is not fair to turn students away and I would like to see [French Immersion] guaranteed as an option in schools.”
Paul McKenzie, assistant superintendent for the Saanich School District says that providing more French Immersion places is something they would like to “aspire to.”
“We want to ensure a fair process that allows the opportunity, but it has to be balanced with the number of qualified teachers,” he said.
McKenzie says the school district’s biggest challenge is attracting enough suitable teachers for French Immersion programs.
When asked whether there were any initiatives to attract more qualified teachers, McKenzie pointed out that it was their first time running a lottery system and any recruitment drives would have to be discussed at a provincial level.
In a statement, the BC Education Ministry blamed the previous government for current shortages and said, “While school districts are responsible for creating education programs and hiring staff, we are aware it’s challenging for some school districts to recruit French-speaking teachers.”
Some parents say they feel the onus is on them to make it known they desire French Immersion and then put pressure on schools to see it happen.
Lewis agrees, saying, “They [school districts] are quite reactionary. At the moment, French Immersion is a program of choice. I would like to see it guaranteed as an option in schools.”
If the B.C Education ministry were to put initiatives in place to attract more French Immersion teachers, McKenzie says, “We would absolutely support that.”
“We don’t want to discourage the parent and community voice. There is no lack of support, it’s just [a question of] resourcing it,” he adds.
Christine Craft, a Public Affairs Officer for the Ministry of Education, wrote in an email that the ministry is seeking teachers from France and Belgium and has certified 17 teachers from those countries. It has also co-funded 74 additional seats over two years for French teacher education at Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and UBC-Okanagan.