Senator Raine questions next Commissioner of Official Languages on BC French immersion teacher shortage.

Senator Raine: Thank you. French immersion schools in British Columbia are very popular. Every year, parents line up for some schools in the wee hours of the morning, and it appears there are not enough spaces for all families who seek to enrol their children in French immersion.

I understand that your role will include not only the cultural anglophones and francophones, but also second-language training in our two official languages. In British Columbia, it’s obvious that there’s a real shortage of teachers. Last fall, some two months into the school year, the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique was short about 50 teachers, and they were really struggling.

I’m wondering if you have any ideas or anything that you could express to deal with this situation, especially in the provinces where there are a lot of francophone citizens but they don’t really live in cohesive communities. From my own experience, I know that many people would like their children to become proficient in both of our official languages.

Could you comment on how you see your role in championing the second language aspect of both of our official languages?

Mr. Théberge: Yes. French immersion is a victim of its own success. French immersion is an educational innovation from Canada. It’s from McGill University, as we all know.

The single most important factor right now is the lack of teachers. That’s not only in British Columbia; it’s across the country. We don’t have enough French immersion teachers. Our graduates at Université de Moncton, if they are willing to move, get an average of six to seven offers in one day, and most of those are to go to Western Canada.

So there is definitely an issue there. We have to increase the number of students in faculties of education in the French immersion stream. In the past, most French immersion teachers came from the French-as-a-first-language stream, and they would just transfer to French immersion programs.

I think that French immersion is one of the best tools we have to increase bilingualism in this country, but we have to follow through. It’s not good enough to have French immersion from kindergarten to Grade 9 or Grade 12. We have to have opportunities and post-secondary education facilities so that they can continue to learn French as a second language.

Numerous task forces have been put in place — I led one in Manitoba many years ago on the shortage of French-language teachers. It’s nothing new. In a place like New Brunswick, the problem we have is that we don’t have enough students. Everybody wants our students. They want the teachers, the lawyers and the nurses. We just don’t have enough people registered in the faculties of education.

We need more internships to increase the visibility of French as a second language. French immersion is a jewel, and we have to make sure it continues to shine and that we have enough teachers. That’s the bottom line. We don’t have enough teachers, and we have to encourage more students to go into French-language immersion teacher training.

If we look at teacher wait lists, there are no wait lists for French immersion teachers or even French-as-a-first-language teachers. That’s the issue: We don’t have enough teachers. What can we do? We have to promote a lot more in those areas where we have francophone teachers who are willing to move. That in itself is a challenge. People like to live in their own communities.

Senator Raine: Is there a thought at all of recruiting from France?

Mr. Théberge: As a former dean of a faculty of education, I have some fairly clear ideas about recruiting teachers from France in the sense that it would take a long period of time to acclimate to the way we teach. The North American way of teaching is quite different from the French way of teaching. The pedagogical models are quite different. It would take time to adapt to our realities.

We have to make sure that young people know there is the option to be a French immersion teacher. They have to be aware of it. Students in French immersion also have to see it as a possibility for a career, not just being part of a French immersion program. That’s the big issue.

(2020)

I think maybe we could use technology, at some point in time, to bridge, but, at the end of the day, we need more French immersion teachers.

Senator Raine: If I flip the subject around the other way, I’m just wondering what the situation is in Quebec in terms of francophone Quebecers immersing their children in English. Is that a possibility as well?

Mr. Théberge: Not to the same degree. I would say it’s probably not allowed. It’s a totally different environment in terms of English immersion in Quebec than for French immersion in Quebec and outside of Quebec.

Senator Raine: I appreciate that, but I have a gut feeling that if we find Quebecers who learn English well, then they also would have an opportunity to go into post-secondary French immersion teaching and be less afraid to move to the other end of the country.

Mr. Théberge: I’ll give you an example from British Columbia. I taught a course in British Columbia a number of years ago, a Master’s course to French teachers. They were French as a first language and French immersion teachers. I had 17 students in my class, 16 from Quebec and 1 from Alberta. So there already is a trend for teachers from Quebec to move to other parts of the country, whether it’s Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta. It’s not a big trend, but it is a trend.