Senate committee report urges more investment in B.C. French education

The senate committee on official languages doesn't believe access to French education in B.C. is meeting its obligations.

Report comes less than a month after the Vancouver School Board cut new kindergarten spaces by 25 per cent

Canadian Parents for French say 52,545 students were enrolled in French Immersion programs across B.C. for the 2015-2016 school year. (Canadian Parents for French)

The senate committee on official languages doesn't believe access to French education in B.C. is meeting its obligations.

The committee released a report Wednesday entitled Je Vis en Français with 17 recommendations, including:

  • The Minister of Canadian Heritage commit to increased and sustained funding for French education in collaboration with B.C.'s Ministry of Education.
  • The Minister of Public Services and Procurement ensure that two new schools are built to meet the needs of Vancouver's Francophone community.
  • The Minister of Canadian Heritage provide support for post-secondary institutions to ensure basic training and continuing education for French teachers.

The full report can be found here

"Some of our report's 17 recommendations are admittedly optimistic," said Senator Raymonde Gagné, a member of the committee.

But Senator Claudette Tardif, who chaired the committee, said "these are opportunities to improve upon a situation that is frankly unacceptable."

"Francophone parents who have the right to have their children enrolled in French first-language programs are faced with a shortage of schools or structurally inadequate schools that are overcrowded and where students often face unreasonable travel times," she said.

"Our report targets four areas where action is needed — improving access to francophone schools, increasing bilingualism among young people, reviewing the funding mechanism and improving accountability, and supporting the vitality of French language communities."

In the past two years francophone parents have won two important court decisions regarding French education in the province.

A decision in B.C. Supreme Court last fall found that some aspects of French-language education in B.C. are underfunded, while one at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015 found the minority language rights of students at a francophone elementary school in Vancouver had been violated.

VSB: few qualified teachers

The senate report comes less than a month after the Vancouver School Board cut new kindergarten spaces by 25 per cent, as a result of the surprise Supreme Court of Canada ruling last fall that requires smaller class sizes in B.C. schools

A Vancouver School Board spokesperson said that even if there was physical space, the district would have a hard time finding enough qualified French immersion teachers.

"In terms of a lack of qualified candidates, one factor is the very small numbers of fluently bilingual teachers who are trained in French immersion and are graduating from B.C. universities," wrote Adrian Keough, director of instruction.

However, the school board is hopeful that in future years that it will be able to expand opportunities and enrolment. 

With files from Natasha Frakes