5. Schools, centers of settlement
In order to prevent and counter negative linguistic mobility while ensuring the retention of the immigrant population, increased attention to the continuum of education is needed, starting with childcare services for children under the age of 4 all the way up to postsecondary education.
In the last few years, the promotion of French-language schools seems to have paid off. In 2016-2017,12 attendance at French-language schools up to the grade three was slightly higher than the the potential pool of students for those age groups, which is the number of children with at least one parent with French as a first official spoken language. In 2011-2012, only pre-school and kindergarten classes reached such noteworthy proportions.
After consistent increase over the years, the proportion of children enrolled in French- language schools who were born outside of Canada appears to have stabilized at 7.9% since 2013-2014. Of the 8,150 students born abroad who were attending a French-language school in 2015-2016, 3,233 (40%) had arrived between 2011 and 2015. Considering the growing number of francophone immigrants who should be settling in Ontario by 2028, a specific strategy for the promotion of the continuum of education in french should be developed for that population category.
While French-language school boards have modified their local admission policies in order to facilitate the integration into French-language schools of people born abroad, those policies and their promotion would benefit from being enhanced. In fact, it matters that the diversity of the Francophonie be equivalent to that of Ontario and that Francophone immigrants who have chosen to adopt French as their official language know that they are welcomed in these schools.
The rate of attrition in French language schools continue to be significant. This corresponds to Francophone students leaving the French- language system to continue their schooling in the English-language system. High school students are especially affected. In Grade 12, in 2016-2017, there were 3,000 fewer students enrolled in French-language schools than the estimated number of 17 year-olds who could attend these schools (number of children with at least one parent with French as first official language spoken).
Moreover, we know that students enrolled in an English-language school who have participated in a French immersion program tend to maintain their French-language skills gains longer than other students. Although the French immersion program (French-as-a-second- language program) encourages bilingualism within the Anglophone population, French-language education (French-as-a-first-language education) remains the best option for ensuring the linguistic security of Francophones and building welcoming communities for French-speaking immigrants.
In its report on education,13 the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner pointed out that the constitutional, legislative and regulatory provisions governing the education system in the official language of the minority set out the obligations of governments to provide school boards with the resources to provide an educational experience that is substantively equivalent to that of the majority for the entire province.
Such an experience refers to the teaching environment, the academic performance of students, their extracurricular activities and the time it takes them to travel from home to school. High-school attrition rates are particularly high in Toronto, a region that is experiencing demographic growth, but that also has an insufficient number of high schools, inferior-quality infrastructures and long travel times.
It was impossible to work out projections for age groups that correspond to academic progressions. However, these projections indicate that Francophones aged 0 to 14 would see their population increase from 90,465, in 2016, to 96,735, in 2028, according to the reference scenario.
These data represent an increase of approximately 6,000 children and students in the French-language child-care system and French-language schools.
This data suggests that the pool of students likely to attend postsecondary institutions would remain the same or shrink, given that the number of people aged between 15 and 34 would go from 137,600, in 2016, to 134,092, in 2028, according to the reference scenario. All of the regions would be impacted by this decrease.
However, the growing proportion of international students registered in postsecondary establishments should diminish the effects of these demographic projections, especially since the number of international students coming from French-speaking countries should see an increase.14
The Office of the Official Languages Commissioner specifies that the obligations linked to education in the language of the minority must extend to early childhood in that it constitutes a pool to be preserved, from which come the children of rights holders.15 Down the line of the learning continuum, the creation of the Université de l’Ontario français will solidify the supply and quality of the postsecondary academic experience. This new university could also positively influence the appeal of postsecondary education in French in the province. It is necessary to broaden the educational provisions for the entire education continuum and to strengthen the bridges laid between the different stages of that continuum to ensure the equality of the educational experience of Francophones in comparison to the rest of Ontario.
In short, the timidity with which the issues facing french-language schools are addressed, the lack of follow- up at the french-immigration continuum level and the still limited access to government services in french in areas designated under the french Language Services Act are negatively and simultaneously affecting the possibility of a demographic renewal of francophone communities in Ontario.
In general, it will be of the outmost importance to increase the appeal of living in French in Ontario by promoting the public usage of this language and of the communities that speak it.
The projections are there – inescapable. It is important to act now. This course of action must be part of a concerted effort with community stakeholders, coordinated among ministerial and government partners, at once measurable and with clearly defined performance indicators. The government cannot intervene directly in homes to encourage exogamous couples to speak French at home. That said, it can work in some very specific areas, including the management of the education continuum. We must be able to offer very proactive options to families regarding French-language early years programs and services.
It is important to find specific solutions to the exodus from French language high schools to English-language schools, especially in the central region. And it is becoming imperative to increase the opportunities for French-language training at the postsecondary level, especially in regions like Central Ontario, where immigration is increasing the Francophone population.
There are multiple solutions, but they must be cohesive and involve many key ministries and offices, in particular Francophone Affairs, Health and Long-Term Care, Children, Community and Social Services, Education and Training, Colleges and Universities and Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. The key community players and education partners know these problems very well and see what is coming.
The Commissioner is recommending that the Minister Responsible for francophone Affairs, together with her Cabinet colleagues, analyze the issue of the anticipated decline in the proportion of Ontario’s francophone population and identify strategies to turn the tide or, at the very least, minimize its consequences.
- Notes on the data in Chart 6: 1) Francophone children in the 2016 census are determined by the presence of at least one parent with French as the first official spoken language. 2) Grade 12 enrolment also includes students 18 years of age and older. 3) These data are from internal analyses from the Ministry of Education of Ontario (OnSis data).
- French Language Services Commissioner. When the most elementary becomes secondary: Homework Incomplete. Follow-up on the report. Toronto, 2016, p. 27.
- R,A. Malatest and Associates Ltd., Market study for a French-language University in Central and Southwestern Ontario. Independent study commissioned by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development of Ontario. Toronto, 2017, p. 45.
- Office of the Official Languages Commissioner. Early Childhood: Fostering the Vitality of Francophone Minority Communities. Ottawa, 2016, p.9.