On March 13, 2018, the Toronto Star published an opinion entitled “French Immersion needs to be more effective and inclusive” by Andrew Campbell. The Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals (CAIP) believes that while some of what was addressed in the articles incorporated several pockets of truth – like the shortage of teachers – 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.

First of all, what does Mr. Campbell mean by bilingualism? According to Statistics Canada, the bilingualism rate rose in each age category in the school-aged population with English as its mother tongue between 2011 and 2016.

Secondly, falsely labelling French immersion programming as elitist and divisive does little to draw attention to the real issue of access. Every child is welcomed in French Immersion. There is no entry exam. Top second language researchers like Katy Arnett, Fred Genesee 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.

Lack of access to quality French programming is often 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.

Thirdly, CAIP recognizes that there is a great demand for French Immersion teachers in Canada and that many school boards across the country do not have enough immersion teachers to meet the ever-increasing number of students in the program. CAIP is actively looking into solutions to this challenge.

To prevent families from being deprived of access to a French immersion program, CAIP wants to face this issue head-on by quickly setting in place creative, long-term solutions. As the representative of all the professionals in French immersion, CAIP seeks first to create a campaign that recognizes the value of the profession as a solution to creating a supply of qualified teachers, then a recruitment campaign, as well as a portal for jobs in immersion. 

Demand and popularity for French language education is on the rise; registration in French immersion has increased by 17% in recent years in Canada and is on the rise nearly everywhere across the country. Collectively, we need to find solutions to meet the high demand for French immersion in Canada as there is high demand for a reason and expanding access to these programs should be made a bigger priority.

In the 50 years since its inception, French immersion has proven to be the most effective way to teach French as a second language to students at all levels of learning. Let us celebrate the bilingual benefits of French immersion, review outdated educational policies and enrolment processes, and focus on producing enough qualified teachers to educate young Canadians to help guarantee a bilingual future for our country.

Marc-Albert Paquette
Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals (CAIP)