March 28, 2017
The Honourable Mélanie Joly, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario
Open Letter re: French Teacher Shortage
On behalf of Canadian Parents for French BC & YK, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you an update on the French Teacher shortage we are facing here in British Columbia, which is increasingly being felt across Canada.
First, a bit of context. French immersion programs have been phenomenally popular here in British Columbia. For eighteen consecutive years, we have seen French immersion enrolment growth in almost every school district. As of the 2015-2016 school year, 52,545 students were enrolled in French immersion across BC, equating to 9.5% of the entire student body.
This is particularly remarkable given that during this same period, overall public school enrolment dropped precipitously. In addition to the social, economic, cultural, and cognitive benefits of learning an additional language, we now have good evidence to show that the collective French immersion experience is helping to positively shape public sentiments towards our two Official Languages.
Late last year, our Branch commissioned a public opinion poll with a respected local polling firm. This poll demonstrates that 70% of British Columbians currently support Canada’s two Official Languages — a significant jump from 2007 when only 57% indicated support. Moreover, 75% agreed that speaking French opens social, career, and cultural opportunities. Notably, in 1982, only 51% believed the same. Finally, last year’s poll found that 66% of British Columbians felt that French forms an integral part of the Canadian identity; though we have no comparable data as this was the first time we asked this question.
All this is to say, the French immersion experience here in British Columbia has been remarkably positive with tangible results. There are remaining challenges however, the most significant of which is finding enough qualified French teachers to keep up with the growing demand from parents to enrol their children in French.
On February 5th 2017, the Globe and Mail ran a front-page story entitled Quality of French-immersion teachers questioned as demand soars in Canada, highlighting the dire situation in many school districts both in Ontario and here in British Columbia.
Despite a misleading headline, the story got to the heart of one of the greatest challenges and opportunities for advocates of Canada’s two Official Languages. As was reported, this past fall many school districts across Canada were in a “mad scramble” to find French teachers for French immersion classrooms. This scramble has not stopped. Eighty percent of school districts in BC have reported that it is “challenging” or “very challenging” to fill French immersion teaching positions with qualified instructors. We are now hearing of more and more stories of English teachers replacing French immersion teacher maternity leaves. This is a significant systemic problem, which our Branch has flagged over the past three years.
In 2014, we commissioned a detailed report, Falling Behind: Report on the Shortage of Teachers in French Immersion and Core French In BC & YK. This report was shared with your office, the Minister of Immigration & Citizenship, and a wide range of provincial and local stakeholders.
In response, there have been some constructive dialogues and noteworthy initiatives. The French Embassy and local consulates have approached Provincial Government officials to discuss mobility agreements and teacher exchange opportunities. Moreover, our Provincial Government’s Ministry of Education has struck a multi-stakeholder task force to review the challenges and propose solutions. Finally, through our focused media efforts, we have helped raise awareness amongst the general public, particularly educators and parents, about the widespread French teacher shortage. Our hope is that through education and ongoing policy dialogue, we can help future teacher candidates make informed decisions as they consider entering education as a career.
Through the Official Languages Educational Protocol (OLEP), the Federal Government already enables some teacher mobility, professional development, and exchanges. Bursaries and programs such as Odyssey are very important and helpful. However, as the situation clearly demonstrates, greater efforts are needed to address this growing challenge. We strongly believe the Federal Government is an important stakeholder in this discussion, particularly with respect to immigration policy and Federal French Funding priorities.
Minister Joly, as your office develops the next Action Plan for Official Languages, we urge your serious consideration of the following recommendations:
- Further invest to subsidize travel costs involved in French Teacher Bursaries and French Teacher Exchange programs.
- Expand immigration policies and recruitment programs to attract teachers and student teachers from French-speaking regions of the world.
- Invest in teacher mentoring programs that focus on supporting and retaining teachers working in French.
- Provide Student Loan Forgiveness to new teachers working in French.
- Provide bursaries for less confident Core French teachers to develop their French language proficiency and become French Immersion teachers.
Since the Official Languages Act was passed in 1969, children across Canada have benefited from enlightened policy and Federal funding encouraging French second language education. This has not only made Canada stronger, but has also enriched the lives of millions of Canadian youth, financially, culturally and socially. Canadians who speak both Official Languages earn, on average, 10% more and have a 3% lower unemployment rate; studies also show multilingual youth are more culturally sensitive, tolerant and more welcoming.
The French teacher shortage now threatens any future growth with respect to student participation. Many different stakeholders will need to develop bold solutions if we are to address this huge challenge.
We thank you for your time and consideration of our recommendations.
President, Canadian Parents for French BC & YK
French Ambassador to Canada, Nicolas Chapuis
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Hon. Ahmed Hussen,
Quebec Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie, Hon Jean-Marc Fournier
BC Deputy Minister of Education, Dave Byng
BC French Programs Manager, Linda Bedouche