Manitoba needs a bilingual deputy education minister, francophone group contends

A group calling for improvements to French education in Manitoba has come up with a long list of recommendations. One of them includes a bilingual deputy minister to work with the francophone school board.

One of 94 recommendations in a pair of reports released Monday

Two reports were released Monday, containing 94 recommendations to improve French education in Monday. (CBC)

Manitoba's Partners for French Education want a bigger francophone voice in education.

The group released a pair of reports Monday, complete with recommendations on how to improve French education in Manitoba. One of the reports has three key proposals the group wants addressed quickly. 

Alain Laberge, the superintendent with the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine, said the first recommendation is a deputy minister of education who is bilingual, to make sure the voice for French education is heard.

"We don't have any voice at the ministry level. That is cut," said Laberge.

"As a superintendent the first person you work with when you have a question is the assistant deputy minister. He knows the situation, he's the one who helps you make the case let's say for another school, he's the one to bring things up to the minister and defend French education."

There had been an assistant to the deputy minister who focused on French education, the group says, but that position was cut by the province last year, when the job was transferred to the former English assistant. 

The second major recommendation involves creating a working group which includes francophones, immersion educators and French leaders. The structure would encompass French language education from cradle to career — a new model Laberge said could be a novelty in Canada. 

"We realize that in 2018 to make sure that our kids are properly ready for school we need better screening before they go to school, we need better daycare, a bit more funding, more tools to help the educators. And we need a better link to post-secondary education and the trades," said Laberge.

He said there is nowhere for francophone students to get learn any of the trades, such as being an electrician, in French. He also points to what he calls active learning — someone who is 40 or 50 who wants to take a pottery or yoga class in French.

"That clearly doesn't exist. We need that superstructure to work together, " he added.

Alain Laberge, superintendent of the DSFM, said Friday students who are upset after witnessing a violent confrontation at their accommodations in the Dominican Republic will get counselling. (CBC)

A second report came from consulting with the community. It contains 94 recommendations — including the three in the first report — born out of information sessions and an education summit in April.

"These, this report, over 190 pages, is meant for everyone. For school divisions, for parents for communities, for us, for immersion. Why? Because we all want the best French education possible. We need a strong community to have strong schools," said Laberge. 

Although no cost estimates have been put together, Laberge said many of the proposals wouldn't cost money. He said it's a matter of people sitting around a table and figuring out where to start.

Some of the recommendations include facilitating the professional development of staff in rural areas, making French language education compulsory for all students in the province, starting in kindergarten, and making sure every family has access to a French-language daycare. They are currently about 800 children on a waiting list.

95,000 students taking French

Partners for French Education say there is a steady growth in the number of students enrolled in French education in the province, and improvements need to be made. Numbers supplied note more than 95,000 students, or 52 per cent of Manitoba's student population, take French classes. More than 1,200 are preschoolers. 

Laberge says both reports were delivered to the minister of education last week. The group is hoping to meet with the minister to map out a strategy to start putting the recommendations in place. 

In an emailed statement Monday, Ian Wishart, Manitoba's minister of education and training, indicated he was looking forward to such a meeting, where he invited the group to "provide further information, including analysis, to back up its claims and requests."

Wishart said the province is compiling the findings from the summit it co-hosted with the group on April 21. 

"We have committed to reviewing the entire kindergarten to Grade 12 public education system in 2019 and will invite public feedback in various areas, including French education."

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