Space a key challenge for schools’ growing FI programs

December 1, 2016   ·   0 Comments

In this second installment of a three-part series, our look at French language education investigates the challenges faced by the various school boards, both in the implementation of their programs and the community reactions to them.

Heather Loney, from the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB), felt that one of the biggest challenges facing her board is the incredible popularity of the program. Her board and its predecessor, the Dufferin County Board of Education, have offered French Immersion for 40 years and seen its popularity increase annually that whole time.

Over the last 10 years, that popularity has seen an average increase of 8% in each year. However, with this popularity has come many challenges, which have seen the Board actively striving to maintain the program’s sustainability.

With the increasing enrolments has come significant pressure to accommodate the students in a finite amount of available space.

Then there is the difficulty in hiring sufficient qualified teachers, plus  added transportation costs, from trying to provide equity access and opportunities to all Upper Grand students. In addition, have been multiple accommodation and boundary issues.

Nancy  Marshall from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), concurs with the hiring problems. Her board, too, struggles with finding enough qualified teachers.

This consensus amongst all the Boards, including the Conseil scolaire Viamonde, (CsV), speaks to a province-wide problem  created in 2015, when the province adopted the new two-year, enhanced teacher education program, in essence eliminating a 2016 graduating class. Although this shortage will ease with the 2017 graduating class, it still does not completely solve the dilemma, since the vast majority of graduates, from this enhanced program, are not qualified to teach French.

In 2016, a mere 13% of graduates were French language-qualified.

For the UGDSB, this means that  although they can generally find qualified teachers for contract positions, it has become increasingly difficult to find French teachers, for Long term Occasional and Occasional Teaching Roster positions.

Adding to this has been  the addition of full-day kindergarten (FDK) in Ontario. Whereas previously, only a half-time teacher was required for each kindergarten class, with FDK the need for qualified French teachers has effectively doubled.

Claire Francoeur of the CsV noted that in the past, graduating French language teachers would be able to get jobs right away with her Board and she would expect this to continue once the new teaching program evens out.

On the question of potential language discrimination between francophone students and the rest of the student populations, all Boards were adamant that they did not perceive this to be a problem. At the CsV, for example, all of the teachers and the students are fluently bilingual, so there is no issue, within the schools or the surrounding community. This is in part due to their approach of teaching both English and French as a “native tongue”.

Nancy Marshall went on to add that the DPCDSB and their local school committees, worked hard to ensure an inclusive and safe atmosphere for their students, while the Upper Grand board’s Ms. Loney agreed and stressed that they also strive to make all their students feel safe and included.

This is accomplished, in part, at UGDSB Dual Track schools by having announcements in both languages, playing O Canada in both official languages and displaying student work from all classes, so that everyone feels valued. The Board has also newly created a French as a Second Language Advisory Committee, which includes both Regular Track and French Immersion parents.

Naturally, inclusion is promoted across Dufferin County, by students participating in sports, clubs and other extracurricular  activities, regardless of their language education. For Conseil scolaire Viamonde students, this has led to their local schools becoming highly recognized for their efforts, including the Brampton secondary school, Jeunes sans Frontieres, being named the first Canadian Microsoft Academy.

Fortunately, there are various funding initiatives available for school boards offering French language education. At the DPCDSB, funding for Core French, French Immersion and Extended French Programs is a component of the Board’s language  grants that recognize the need for French programming resources. Funds for French language development are also available from a Canada-Ontario agreement.

More specifically, there is French as a Second Language funding available solely to English Boards, to support the additional costs of all French programs. At the elementary level, this funding is based on enrolment for Grades 4 to 8 in French Core and Extended French programs. For FI, the basis is enrolment for JK through Grade 8, with a minimum of 600 hours of instruction by the completion of the eighth grade.

With secondary schools the funding is based upon the number of credits taken in either French or other subjects taught in French.

As the Boards continue to face the demand for these programs, they review and adjust them annually according to their strategic plans and whatever political policies may affect them.

All three Boards in Dufferin are highly supportive of French language education and in seeing it grow and evolve throughout their jurisdictions. Although their approaches may vary, due to a variety of issues, legislation and circumstances, they all see the future of French language education as bright and essential.

In the third and final segment of this series the focus will follow this optimism, as it looks at, how the Boards see the future and their solutions to present and future challenges.

With thanks to Nancy Marshall, DPCDSB; Charle Blanchard, DPCDSB; Heather Loney, UGDSB, and Claire Francoeur, CsV.


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