Archived - Notes for the Discussion Forum on Post-Secondary Education in French in Saskatchewan
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Regina, September 12, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
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Beginning of dialog
Welcome to this discussion forum on the continuum of French-language learning opportunities.
It is a particular pleasure to be here in Saskatchewan. The last time I came, I was able to attend the centenary celebrations of the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise in Duck Lake.
Saskatchewan has played a key role in innovating in public policy—medicare being the obvious example—and in being the source of many great leaders in the federal public service, including Al Johnson, Thomas Shoyama, and the current Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, I firmly believe that linguistic duality is a value that all Canadians hold dear, and we all have a role to play in making sure that this value remains strong and steadfast, particularly here in Saskatchewan, where Francophones live in a minority context.
Knowledge of both our official languages is important for young Canadians as they prepare for their future, and access to post-secondary education in French is a key element to ensuring the strength of the Fransaskois community.
Today’s discussion forum is a significant opportunity for everyone to engage in open, courteous and respectful exchanges throughout the day. We must focus on what brings us together: making sure that post-secondary education in French in Saskatchewan, both French as a second language and French as a first language, in a minority-language context, remains relevant. I encourage all of you to engage wholeheartedly in discussions that will help us to keep Saskatchewan’s Francophone community dynamic and promote linguistic duality in the province and across Canada.
I hope that the discussions that follow will inform you, as decision‑makers in education or leaders of your communities, so that the vitality of Canada’s linguistic minority communities is sustained and nourished and that linguistic duality is recognized as a fundamental value and key leadership quality in Canadian society.
Education remains the cornerstone of the development and achievement of potential of the country’s minority-language communities. Here in Saskatchewan, opportunities for post‑secondary education in French are not a privilege; they are an essential tool for the growth and strength of this province’s Francophone communities.
While minority-language education plays a crucial role in ensuring the vitality of official language communities, that vitality is sometimes difficult to transfer to day‑to‑day life outside of the Francophone community, where most communications are in English. Better collaboration between minority and majority institutions would allow both to promote linguistic duality and bring together Anglophone and Francophone communities. Communities have to generate interest in each other’s presence and create new bonds, new associations and new joint projects. Universities can—and should—bring these issues into focus and counter the linguistic isolation that can occur on both sides of the language divide.
One thing is critical to the success of any minority-language education system—whether English in Quebec or French in Saskatchewan—and that is quality. In a society where education is the door to success, we must offer students a high-quality education. Nobody will sacrifice the quality of their education for a principle, however important it may be. This is why minority-language education must be excellent.
Keeping high-quality post-secondary education in French accessible in Saskatchewan serves two objectives, for both the minority communities and the province as a whole: it ensures that the Fransaskois have the capacity to pursue their post-secondary studies in French, and it gives Saskatchewanians of all linguistic backgrounds a chance to study Canada’s other official language at the university level as a second, or even third, language. It also promotes linguistic duality as a core Canadian value, and it has the potential to attract students from across Canada and abroad to come to Saskatchewan to study in French. The experience in other provinces has shown that post-secondary language learning can be a magnet to attract foreign students.
I would like to point out that we are talking about an official language, and not a foreign language. A worrying trend is emerging in Canada’s English-language universities: a majority of them no longer require the knowledge of the second official language as an admissions requirement. I even heard that the president of one Canadian university described French as a “foreign language.” Unfortunately, French is still too often referred as such in many university course syllabuses. We need to remind students of the advantages of knowing Canada’s second official language.
We are also seeing changes in our communities’ demographics. Immigrants have carved a place for themselves within the French community. Our education system plays an important role in transmitting Canadian values such as linguistic duality to a new generation of Canadians.
Of course, the issue of diversity affects both language communities in Canada, and it presents a great challenge to educators. Newcomers in Canada often have one or two languages under their belts before setting foot in this country, which means that English and French tend to become their third and fourth languages.
It is therefore our responsibility to see to it that the programs we offer respond to their particular needs as well. English and French are Canada’s official languages, and they have to be viewed as such in our universities.
We also have to clearly demonstrate the mutually beneficial relationship that exists between diversity and linguistic duality, and that these two elements are working together, not against each other.
Giving Canadian students a chance to continue their post-secondary studies in the official language of their choice—or in both official languages—does not limit their freedom; it provides them with opportunities to engage in the national life of Canada.
Universities will have to be flexible and innovative and take into account the ever‑changing needs of their student client base. It is not up to the students to accommodate university requirements. For example, courses offered in French could be harmonized with the content of various disciplines, or joint diplomas or specialization programs could be offered in the second language. The federal government is Canada’s largest employer, and it needs bilingual graduates. Departments and agencies are developing partnerships with certain post‑secondary institutions to develop specialized courses in both languages.
Universities must establish ties with communities. This type of support could prove beneficial in areas such as resources, jobs and internships, to mention just a few.
The new globalized economy is resulting in many language and identity changes. We are witnessing the birth of hybrid cultural and linguistic identities. Identities are more fluid, roots are less evident, and human relationships are characterized by movement. The nature of linguistic identity is changing everywhere. It has become less clear-cut, less rigid and more flexible.
English and French are international languages, and this allows Canada to communicate with a large part of the world and to play a role in both the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. We live in a country where people speak 150 languages, some of which were spoken well before the Europeans arrived, but the national conversation takes place in English and French. Although English is becoming the international lingua franca, its predominance may wane as a result of globalization. Bilingualism—and, indeed, plurilingualism—will make the difference in the world of tomorrow.
In business and education, unilingual citizens will be competing with candidates who, in addition to their own language, have mastered not only English but also a third language and maybe even a fourth.
Speaking at least two languages is a valuable professional asset, but it is also a key to better understanding our complex world. Language skills are increasingly being sought in the labour market, in the academic world and in politics. Bilingualism also leads to respect, tolerance, non-discrimination and open-mindedness. Mastering another language makes us humanistsFootnote 1—as one study in Canada demonstrated—and helps build a society that is open to the world. This is vital in an environment in which technology reigns supreme, yet we sometimes seem to ignore the importance of communicating with one another.
That is why students need extra opportunities to engage in post-secondary studies in French or English, or both at the same time, everywhere in Canada: they need opportunities to practise their second language. It is up to the universities to offer them summer or part-time job opportunities where they can practise their second language, a language practicum, or the chance to spend a school year in a second language-speaking environment. The language gap must be bridged.
A couple of years ago, my office published a study on second‑language learning in Canada’s universities, as well as a map of Canada that shows which universities offer second-language programs. The Web map shows courses taught in the second language, learning supports offered, networking opportunities and exchange programs involving the use of the second official language. The study and map are available on our website.
Leaders at a number of universities are thinking about how to take full advantage of their language capabilities. Dalhousie University found that half of the professors in their public administration program were able to teach in French. The University of Windsor, the University of Montréal and York University’s Glendon Campus offer bilingual programs (and trilingual programs at the University of Montréal).
I don’t know whether it’s a result of the Office of the Commissioner’s study or the messages we regularly convey, but recognition of the need for bilingual employees is growing, in the public service and in national and international companies such as Bell Canada and Rogers. Language skills are sought after in today’s challenging economy.
As Francophones become bilingual without losing full proficiency in French, and as Anglophones become bilingual without forgoing their identity and cultural heritage, we are seeing the emergence of a Canadian model of linguistic duality. Post‑secondary education in French, whether as a second language or in a minority context, allows students not only to become professionals in their fields and better understand their country, but also to become citizens of the world who can enjoy greater mobility.
Finally, if we want to encourage bilingualism at the university level, it is necessary to establish partnerships to offer students a range of opportunities to perfect their skills. This is particularly important for students enrolled in French programs who, as is the case here in Saskatchewan, are part of a minority community.
Our country needs to provide a true continuum of post-secondary education opportunities in both official languages for all Canadians. Saskatchewan plays a central role in establishing this continuum. It is an integral part of preparing our young people for the future to be productive citizens of their own country and citizens of the world. It is also important for Canadians to understand and care for one another, and to foster harmony among our linguistic communities.
Education remains the cornerstone of the development and vitality of the country’s minority-language communities and the promotion of linguistic duality. We must protect post-secondary education in French in Saskatchewan and find ways to maintain its high quality. This is something we must work on together.
Thank you, and I hope you share fruitful discussions at this forum.
- Footnote 1
Marian Scott, “Canadians are leaders in cultural intelligence,” The Gazette, January 5, 2012.