Power in numbers
Our democratic foundation is based on treating minority rights equally to those of the majority. In trying to secure services in French for one’s citizens, the Commissioner’s Office is very often reminded that Francophones make up just 5% of the Ontario population. That statistic doesn’t account for many who choose to live and work in French. Nor does it include those who are actively trying to ensure the continuity of the rich Franco-Ontarian heritage by striving to be bilingual: Francophile. Like the term “Francophone,” “Francophile” can mean so many different things. In the context of this publication, a Francophile is a person who is “interested in French and in Canada’s French-speaking communities”. In many cases, the children have learned French and actively seek out French cultural activities, groups and products.
With that in mind, the Francophone and Francophile communities joining forces will help foster the growth of the Franco-Ontarian population. This partnership has already produced positive results. In fact, it is partly because of the tremendous support of the Francophile community, notably Canadian Parents for French, that the Legislative Assembly voted to amend the French Language Services Act and grant independence to this Office.
It will only benefit both communities to collaborate, since they share similar issues relating to all levels of education:
Student retention in secondary school:
• Only 36%18 of the original Grade 1 cohort in French Immersion (the best solution for achieving a higher level of French proficiency leading towards bilingualism) remain in the program by the time the students reach Grade 12.19 Faced with the prospect of selecting their postsecondary education and seeing few programs offered in French, especially in Central Southwestern Ontario, French Immersion students (and Francophone students alike) decide to study in English.
Lack of access to support and resources:
• Despite an ever-increasing demand for more immersion programming, school boards are slow to respond with solutions and quick to cite cost and the lack of qualified French teachers as hurdles preventing them from offering more French-language programming. Consequently, enrolling one’s child in French immersion is often a lottery-based system. Literally.
• Despite receiving grants from the Ministry of Education for providing French as a Second Language programming, school boards have complete discretion as to how they spend those grants, and what’s more, they are not required to report on how they do so.
• French as a Second Language programming in schools often does not receive the same support and resources as regular English programming, leaving teachers and families to shoulder the burden.
• Distance-enrolling one’s child in either a French-language school or French as a Second Language program usually involves additional commitment by the parents to commuting their child a greater distance. Free transportation (busing) to French Immersion programs is not provided by all school boards.
Lack of adequate statistics for tracking educational pathways:
• Although there are almost 165,000 immersion students in Ontario,20 the Ontario government does not collect data on their pathways to postsecondary education.
An increase in partnerships and collaboration between Francophones and Francophiles can only benefit all those seeking a solid education in French, whether it is in a French-language school or French as a Second Language program. In fact, the government outlined in its Action Plan that “in order to foster a closer connection between French and English speaking communities and to promote bilingualism in Ontario, French language education and French as a Second Language programs at the elementary, secondary and postsecondary levels are now overseen by the same Division”.21
The Commissioner would like to reiterate what he said in last year’s Annual Report: “now more than ever, it makes sense for Francophones and Francophiles to work together rather than in silos”.22 And he would like to add that there is only additional power to be gained by increasing the number of people working for the same cause.
18For more information: http://on.cpf.ca/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/State-of-FSL-Education-in-Ontario-August-20132.pdf (page consulted in May 2014).
19The drop-off rate is much higher for students enrolled in the less intensive Core and Extended French programs. It should be noted that all Ontario students are mandated to take “Core French” from Grades 4 to 9.
20For more information: http://on.cpf.ca/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/State-of-FSL-Education-in-Ontario-August-20132.pdf (page consulted in May 2014).
21Canada-Ontario Agreement on Minority Language Education and Second Language Instruction 2009-2010 to 2012-2013. Available online: http://www.pch.gc.ca.
22Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, A New Approach, Annual Report 2012–2013, Toronto, 2013.