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Recent media stories have highlighted a growing demand for French immersion programs: parents waiting in line for hours to register their child for a spot,1 long waitlists,2 districts scrambling to fill teaching positions.3 In these programs, most teaching is done in French, with instruction in English added gradually in later grades.4 French immersion offers non-Francophone students the opportunity to become bilingual by the time they graduate British Columbia’s K–12 public education system.

Growing student enrolment

The demand for French immersion is reflected in growing enrolment, with the number of students close to doubling between 1991 and 2017. The growth has remained steady even in periods when student enrolment has declined in the province. In BC, French immersion has two streams: early (entry in Kindergarten or Grade 1) and late (entry in Grade 6). In total, approximately 1 in 10 students (9.8%) are now enrolled in French immersion programs in BC.5

Given reports of long waitlists, it is likely that this number would be higher if more spots were available. For example, a 2015 news article reported that there were 799 applications for 529 French immersion Kindergarten spots in Vancouver.6 In early 2018, the Surrey School District reported that there were 102 students on a waitlist for the Kindergarten early immersion program, and 58 students on the Grade 1 waitlist.7

From Grade 8 onwards, schools report all students under the “early” French immersion stream, greatly limiting analysis of how many students remain in the program until graduation.8 The Ministry of Education reports that 96% of students in French immersion are completing high school.9

Schools offering French immersion

To meet demand, a growing number of schools are offering French immersion. In 1990–91, there were 220 schools offering French immersion programs.10 In 2017–18 there were a total of 276 schools with early and/or late French immersion programs.11 Of these, 211 offer only early immersion, 19 offer late immersion, and 36 offer both.

However, the demand for French immersion is uneven in some districts. For example, despite lengthy waitlists at some schools, Surrey closed the French immersion program in Cougar Creek Elementary at the end of 2017–18.12

Teacher shortage

The demand for French immersion cannot be met without French education teachers. It is widely accepted that there is a shortage of teachers in French education programs, including French immersion. For example, two weeks after the start of the 2018–19 school year there were still 80 job postings for French immersion teachers.13 Many districts report that French Immersion is one of the most challenging positions to recruit.14

The Ministry has announced various strategies to address this shortage, including additional spaces in teacher education programs for French language education15 and recruiting teachers outside of the province and country.16 The federal g overnment has also committed funding through the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023.17

At the same time, a recent survey of teachers in BC found that approximately 25% of respondents who said they had sufficient French to work as French-speaking teachers were not currently teaching in French immersion or a Francophone school.18 This raises critical questions as to how to retain French immersion teachers. Challenges include movement between districts as well as between French and English streams, the urgent need for teaching resources in French, and isolation as a minority-language teacher.

graph1 (2)

Source: BC Schools–Student Enrolment and FTE by Grade, Ministry of Education.

  1. For example: Global News BC. (2018, January 15). Vernon parents lineup for hours to register kids for French immersion. Retrieved from globalnews.ca/video/3966866/vernon-parents-lineup-for-hours-to-register-kids-for-french-immersion.
  2. For example: Bains, C. (2018, April 15). B.C. parents struggle to snag province’s few French immersion spots. The Star Vancouver. Retrieved from www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/04/15/bc-parents-struggle-to-snag-provinces-few-french-immersion-spots.html.
  3. For example: Stewart, N. (2018, August 22). B.C. schools scramble to fill French immersion teaching spots. Global News BC. Retrieved from globalnews.ca/video/4403958/b-c-schools-scramble-to-fill-french-immersion-teaching-spots-2.
  4. French Immersion is one of four French education programs offered by the Ministry of Education. For a comparison of these programs see: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/k-12/administration/program-management/french-programs/learn-in-french/kindergarten-to-grade-12/kindergarten-to-grade-12-compare-french-programs 
  5. Analysis and Reporting Unit, B.C. Ministry of Education. (2018). BC Schools – Student Enrolment and FTE by Grade. Government of British Columbia. Retrieved from catalogue.data.gov.bc.ca/dataset/bc-schools-student-enrolment-and-fte-by-grade.
  6. Sherlock, T. (2015, April 22). Shortage of French teachers acute across B.C., report finds. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from www.vancouversun.com/life// Shortage+French+teachers+acute+across+report+finds/10992557/story.html.
  7. As reported in: Reid, A. (2018, February 22). ‘Significant waitlists” for early French immersion programs in Surrey. Surrey Now-Leaders. Retrieved from www.surreynowleader.com/news/significant-waitlists-for-early-french-immersion-programs-in-surrey/ .
  8. Personal communication (2018, September 17). Outreach and Communications Coordinator, French Education Branch, Ministry of Education.
  9. BC Gov News. (2018, August 27). Education by the numbers. Information Bulletin. Retrieved from news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018EDUC0040-001628.
  10. Government of BC. (2018). Student headcount by grade. Retrieved from catalogue.data. gov.bc.ca/dataset/bc-schools-student-headcount-by-grade/resource/9867ca2b-ba0c-4f78-b1c7-3f8fe31ffb60.
  11. For a map of these schools, produced by the French Education Branch of the Ministry of Education, see: www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1G-HTLLf-qeAVuAz7qUEWdPO-Tno&ll=52.490261214966445%2C-123.51838300000003&z=6
  12. Ibid.
  13. Results for any teacher & administrators position in all employer categories for the exact phrase “French Immersion” on makeafuture.applytoeducation.com/Applicant/AttSearch.aspx. The website is a joint venture created by the BC Public School Employers’ Association, the First Nations Education Steering Committee, the Ministry of Education, and BC’s 60 public boards of education.
  14. The Minister’s task force on immediate recruitment and retention challenges. (2017). Task force report on immediate recruitment and retention challenges. Retrieved from www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/kindergarten-to-grade-12/uploads/task_force_report.pdf.
  15. Ministry of Education. (2018, February 9). Students to benefit from funding to support teacher hiring. Government of British Columbia. Retrieved from news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018EDUC0008-000184; Ministry of Education. (2018, September 18). Province celebrates new French teacher education students and expands training efforts. Government of British Columbia. Retrieved from news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018EDUC0050-001783.
  16. Fletcher, Tom. (2018, March 29). Education minister off to Europe to recruit French teachers. The Chilliwack Progress. Retrieved from www.theprogress.com/news/education-minister-off-to-europe-to-recruit-french-teachers.
  17. Alphonso, Caroline. (2018, February 28). Federal government commits funds to address shortage of French immersion teachers. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/school-board-to-offer-moving-allowance-to-lure-french-immersion-teachers/article38160331/; www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/official-languages-bilingualism/official-languages-action-plan/2018-2023.html.
  18. Miranda, Judy (2018). Recruitment and retention: Examining the Provincial Landscape. Presentation given at the French Education Stakeholders Advisory Committee meeting, May 31, 2018.