Demand for French immersion grows as B.C. grapples with teacher shortage
The federal government's commitment to hiring more French teachers across the country has come just in time for a group of West Shore parents concerned for their kids' education.
For the first time, the Sooke School District has had to limit kindergarten intake for one of its French immersion programs, stemming from a serious crunch on available teachers.
Supt. Jim Cambridge said the district recently hired 115 teachers due to the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that restored guidelines for class sizes in B.C., but it still isn't enough.
That same Supreme Court ruling has put a strain on the availability of teachers, especially those who teach French.
"We've been actively recruiting and had staff working in Alberta, and we'll be going to Ontario and Manitoba to schools that have French teachers in them," said Cambridge.
Demand for French immersion is also growing, rising to five or six percent of students per year. That's up from two to three per cent enrollment just four years ago.
It's led to a waitlist for kindergarten enrolment at French-only schools like École John Stubbs in Colwood, the only such school in the district.
"Kids have to go into a classroom regardless of which program, so it would be ideal to have them in a program of their parent's choice," said Cendra Beaton of the organization Canadian Parents for French.
The group has written an open letter to the district asking it prioritize the recruitment of French teachers and re-examine its hiring practices.
"What can we do to be more competitive than other districts so that we can continue to fill those positions?" said Beaton.
Education received an extra $24-million per year in last week's provincial budget, and on Tuesday the federal government committed millions to address the shortage of French teachers in Canada.
It's hoped that two new schools slated for construction in the Sooke School District will also help address the problem before it gets worse.
"Rural and northern British Columbia faces real struggles where they have unqualified people in classrooms without teaching certificates," said Cambridge. "Wages aren't as good in B.C. as the rest of Canada and housing costs are significantly more."
The school board planned to meet Tuesday night and the letter from the group was on the agenda.
The district said children on the waitlist for French immersion will have other opportunities to access the program in Grade 1 and later in Grade 6.