Official Languages Commissioner Calls on Federal Government to Address National Shortage of French-as-a-Second-Language Teachers
For immediate release
Vancouver, British Columbia, February 13, 2019 – In a study published today, Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge called for the Minister of Official Languages to establish a national strategy to address a chronic shortage of French-as-a-second-language (FSL) teachers.
More than ever, Canadians want their children to have access to the advantages that come with being bilingual, yet at the same time, there is a chronic and critical shortage of FSL teachers,” said Commissioner Théberge. “
No matter where they live, every child in Canada should have the opportunity to become bilingual.”
The federal government has set a goal of increasing Canada’s bilingualism rate from 17.9% to 20% by 2036, which it plans to achieve by raising the bilingualism rate of English speakers. While this is a laudable goal, according to the study, reaching it will require focusing on recruiting and retaining FSL teachers.
To meet the demand for FSL education, we need to focus on teachers,” explained Théberge. “So I am calling on the Minister of Official Languages to take on a clear national leadership role to address the chronic FSL teacher shortage in Canada. This will also help the government reach its bilingualism target.”
Provinces and territories face common challenges in attracting and retaining FSL teachers. Some FSL teachers report having low status within schools and lack professional development opportunities, which can sway them away from teaching FSL and into the English stream. Also, FSL teachers’ ability to work in different areas of the country is hindered by the lack of standardized qualifications in Canada.
There are also unique challenges: British Columbia has difficulty attracting FSL teachers both to its remote towns because of the location and to its urban centres because of the high cost of living. In its struggle to meet the high demand for FSL programs, and especially French immersion, the province has had to resort to wait lists and lotteries. At the same time, B.C. has implemented some innovative strategies that could be replicated across Canada to promote careers in education and to increase the supply of French teachers.
In addition to a long-term national strategy for FSL teacher recruitment and retention, the study also includes key recommendations, including:
- establishing a national FSL consultation table with provincial and territorial partners and with FSL stakeholder associations;
- standardizing the required FSL language skills and qualifications for teachers across Canada;
- ensuring timely and effective dispensation of funds in the 2018–2023 Action Plan for Official Languages for FSL teacher recruitment and retention; and
- exploring the possibility of granting bursaries under the 2018–2023 Action Plan for Official Languages for teacher candidates seeking to improve their French-language skills and study in other parts of the country—for example, at faculties of education whose FSL teacher education programs are not being filled to capacity.
The Commissioner acknowledged that the government’s dedicated funding for FSL teacher recruitment strategies in the Action Plan for Official Languages will help, but stated that a long-term national strategy is needed to build a sufficient supply of teachers. Achieving sustainable results will require greater collaboration among provinces and territories as well as among ministries, school boards and university faculties of education.
According to Commissioner Théberge, “
The strategies that are implemented now will affect an entire generation of second-language learners. The Minister, together with the provinces and territories, must look at sustainable solutions for recruiting and retaining FSL teachers to help build a more bilingual Canada.”
Having considered the findings and analysis of the study, and within the parameters of his mandate to promote French and English within Canadian society and in particular to encourage federal institutions to help further that promotion, the Commissioner of Official Languages recommends that the federal minister responsible for official languages assume a clear national leadership role in addressing the challenges in FSL teacher supply and demand. The Minister should also continue to work with the provinces and territories and community stakeholders to identify the best strategies and measures to attract more candidates into FSL education programs and retain FSL teachers.
More specifically, the minister should:
- establish a national FSL consultation table with provincial and territorial partners and with FSL stakeholder associations, and develop and lead a long-term national strategy for FSL teacher recruitment and retention. The strategy should take into account the particular needs of different FSL programs and of English-speaking communities, including in Quebec, with the goal of implementing sustainable solutions with tangible impacts that can be duplicated across the country;
- work with provincial and territorial partners and professional teacher associations to encourage greater standardization of teachers’ required FSL language competency and other relevant qualifications and to implement measures to support teachers in their efforts to improve their language proficiency and their linguistic and cultural confidence;
- work closely with provincial and territorial partners to lead the development and promotion of a free, federally funded, on-line job search platform wherein school boards from across Canada can advertise job postings for FSL positions, and through which teachers can apply to several different postings using the same profile; and
- ensure a timely and effective dispensation of funds in the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in our future for FSL teacher recruitment and retention, taking into consideration the specific challenges in FSL teacher recruitment and retention in different FSL programs, including in Quebec.
The Commissioner also invites the minister to:
- ask provincial ministries and faculties of education to consider working and communicating more closely with local school boards and professional teacher associations to address challenges and create more FSL teacher candidate university placements and more second-language, cultural and professional skills development opportunities for current teachers;
- explore the possibility of granting bursaries under the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018–2023: Investing in our future for teacher candidates seeking to improve their French-language skills and study in other parts of the country, for example at faculties of education whose FSL teacher education programs are not being filled at capacity;
- engage in a promotional campaign to raise awareness among FSL high school students of the opportunities and requirements involved in pursuing a career in FSL education—the campaign should promote and affirm the value of all FSL education programs, from Core French to French Immersion;
- work with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to explore ways to facilitate the process for French-speaking immigrants coming to Canada with a degree in education from their country of origin and to help them successfully integrate into Canadian FSL teaching positions and classrooms.
FSL teachers: Challenges across Canada
In New Brunswick, moving early French immersion back to Grade 1 in September 2017 was well received but had a significant impact on school staff. Despite recruitment efforts, there has been a shortage of qualified teachers and supply teachers in the province’s school system since the move.
Nova Scotia currently does not appear to have any difficulty recruiting qualified graduates from FSL study programs to staff vacant positions; however, the pool of qualified FSL supply teachers is limited.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, FSL programs are scarce in rural areas, and some schools do not offer the option of starting immersion in kindergarten. Piecemeal cuts to FSL programs have reduced the number of programs available.
In Prince Edward Island, large class sizes and a lack of FSL materials and resources are having an impact on recruiting and retaining FSL teachers.
In Quebec, FSL teachers are in high demand in both the English- and French-language school boards. French-language school boards must provide FSL classes to immigrant and refugee children to help them reach the required level of French-language proficiency. English and French school boards also provide French-language training to immigrant and refugee adults to help them integrate into Quebec society and the workforce. Additional competition for FSL teachers comes from other educational institutions, such as universities and CEGEPs, and from community organizations that offer FSL classes.
Ontario has difficulty attracting FSL teachers both to its remote towns because of the location and to its urban centres because of the high cost of living. In its struggle to meet the high demand for FSL programs, and especially French immersion, the province has introduced measures to attract qualified French-language educators from abroad and fast-track their entry into Canada.
Western Canada and the North
British Columbia has difficulty attracting FSL teachers both to its remote towns because of the location and to its urban centres because of the high cost of living. In its struggle to meet the high demand for FSL programs, and especially French immersion, the province has had to resort to wait lists and lotteries. At the same time, B.C. has implemented some innovative strategies that could be replicated across Canada to promote careers in education and to increase the supply of French teachers.
In Alberta, the supply of FSL teachers cannot keep up with the increasing demand. In urban areas in particular, FSL teachers are in higher demand than teachers of other subjects. Some school boards are addressing this by hiring out of province.
In Saskatchewan, enrolment in core French classes is declining while French immersion enrolment is on the rise. As interest in French immersion grows, the province is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit enough FSL teachers, and this is creating competition for resources between school boards. The Baccalauréat en éducation program at the University of Regina is helping to fill some of the gaps by recruiting students and producing a new cohort of French teachers every year.
Manitoba has consistently experienced high interest in French immersion programs; however, it is still difficult to attract and retain enough FSL teachers to meet the growing need. Some of the province’s rural and northern communities struggle to provide students with sufficient French-language credit hours to graduate with a French immersion diploma.
Challenges in attracting and retaining FSL teachers in the North is hindering the growth of FSL programs. This is partly because of the remote locations of the communities and their schools.
Fortunately, Yukon’s Department of Education recognizes the value of being fluent in Canada’s two official languages and has implemented a plan for second language programs in the territory.
The Northwest Territories also has difficulties trying to attract and retain FSL teachers when the demand just keeps on rising. Local training could be the solution to this ongoing problem and would benefit all communities.