On June 3, 2016 the Globe and Mail published an article entitled “French immersion could do with a dose of reality” by Marcus Gee followed by “There’s just one problem with French immersion…well, several, actually” on June 4th by Margaret Wente. The Canadian Association of Immersion Teacher (CAIT) believes that while some of what was addressed in the articles incorporated several pockets of truth – like lack of access – we do not feel that what was published represented a fair or balanced understanding of the real issues affecting French Immersion or the positive influence it has had for the large number of satisfied learners, parents and graduates of the program.

Falsely labelling French Immersion programming as elitist and divisive does little to draw attention to the real issue of access. Lack of access to quality French programming is not a problem inherent of French Immersion but is rather mitigated by administrative and political decisions made at the regional level. If spaces are limited, this reflects the local school boards choice to limit enrolment. However, this practice can be changed with leadership and the educational administration’s desire to act in accordance with the wishes of the parents in the communities they serve. Despite the need for more to be done to ensure equal access in schools across Canada, demand and popularity for French language education is on the rise. The fact is French Immersion in Canada is growing: immersion registration has increased by 17% in recent years and is on the rise nearly everywhere across the country. With the mounting popularity of French Immersion many school boards are experiencing growing pains that can be alleviated by engaging in long term planning. We need to focus on the positive attributes of the program as there is high demand. A reasonable and expanded access to these programs should be made a bigger priority.

These articles are out of touch with current practices and refer to dated policies and procedures. Every child is welcomed in French immersion. There is no entry exam. Top second language researchers like Katy Arnett, Fred Genesse and Renée Bourgoin have provided evidence that when supported by the appropriate resources, French immersion is a free, beneficial and inclusive program open to all youth who call Canada home. We fully understand that immersion schools are faced with the shortage of qualified bilingual teachers. There are many initiative to improve French second language teacher recruitment and retention both on the provincial and national level. CAIT is in the process of creating a national taskforce with major stakeholders (ministries of education, universities, school boards, associations, teachers…etc.) to find solutions to this challenge.

French immersion has proven its worth and will continue to do so by being the most effective way to teach French as a second language to students at all levels of learning. Let us celebrate the benefits and widespread support for FI, review outdated educational policies and enrolment processes and focus on educating young Canadians by prioritizing access to French immersion programs to help guarantee a bilingual future for our country.

Lesley Doell
Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers.