Any Canadian family who want to enroll their child in French immersion should not be turned away.
The Peel District School Board in Ontario should come up with a more creative solution to address the issue of ballooning enrolment in the immersion stream; it should not subject students to a lottery selection system, or to enrolment caps. After all, the board wouldn’t dream of capping enrolment for students in the English stream. While the Peel board says it has trouble hiring and retaining French-speaking staff, nearly a quarter of qualified French teachers are unemployed, according to the Ontario College of Teachers.
“Access to French immersion education should not be structured like Lotto 6/49 or standing in line to get concert tickets,” says Anne Kothawala, past president of French for the Future. “Parents should be able to exercise their right to access a bilingual education for their children.”
Official bilingualism is an important part of Canadian public policy, and French immersion programs, which date back to the 1960s, are at the heart of this policy. Ottawa provides funding to the provinces to help defray the costs of the French stream in elementary and high school. Currently, 8.6 per cent of elementary and high school students across Canada are enrolled in French immersion, a slight increase from 2006. In Peel, the program has grown from 10 per cent of Grade 1 students to 25 per cent in the past decade.
Research shows that young children are able to learn a second language much more easily than adults. There are also significant cognitive benefits. A recent Statistics Canada study found that immersion students outperform their counterparts in non-immersion programs, even when gender, socio-economic background and parents’ education are taken into account. And those in early immersion, who begin French in Grade 1, have the greatest edge.
In an increasingly globalized world, a second language is a clear advantage, and makes learning a third easier. And in Canada, French is a requirement for anyone who wants a career in politics, diplomacy, international business and numerous other fields.
Peel Region should build on the success of its program, and find a way to give every student who wants to enroll in French immersion a place in the classroom.