Findings from a recent report show that more students in British Columbia are participating in French language programs than ever before, stating that province-wide, French immersion enrollment has been increasing for the past 17 years.
In School District 5 Southeast Kootenay, French immersion enrolments nearly doubled over the past decade, while overall enrolment continues to decrease.
Heather Bartlett, acting executive director and project coordinator for Canadian Parents for French B.C. and Yukon, said the first French immersion program began in B.C. in 1968 and spread throughout the 1970s. Now the children of those first French immersion students are following in their parents’ footsteps.
“We’re seeing steady increase in enrolment with the second generation of French immersion students joining the program,” Bartlett said, adding parents are aware of the life-long benefits of learning a second language, and more specifically, the importance of learning both of Canada’s official languages.
“Studies have shown that French immersion benefits the cognitive and social development of students and gives opportunities for career advancement.”
One graph in the report shows overall student enrolment versus French immersion student enrolment in Southeast Kootenay (SD 5) between 2005 and 2015.
Over that decade there was a 12.3 per cent drop in overall enrolment (6,015 students in 2005 to 5,276 students in 2015). During that same period, French immersion enrolment increased by 46.3 per cent (246 students in 2005 to 458 students in 2015).
According to the B.C. Ministry of Education, “research demonstrates that students who successfully complete a French immersion program attain functional bilingualism while doing as well as, or better than, their unilingual peers in the content areas of curriculum, including English Language Arts.”
Bartlett said learning French is a great way to engage in the country’s two official languages and creates opportunities to grow cultural awareness and understanding.
“A second language opens doors for students to travel, increases career opportunities and keeps individuals competitive and relevant in an increasingly multicultural, multilingual world.”
With French immersion becoming more and more popular, the report said there is currently a shortage of qualified French language teachers.
If parents in the area are interested in enrolling their children in French immersion in the coming years, Bartlett suggests they check with their district to determine the opportunities and access within their region.