In February of this year, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages released a study it had commissioned on supply and demand of French Second Language (FSL) teachers in Canada. The study was led by the Canadian Parents for French and conducted by researchers from across Canada, including Mimi Masson, Elizabeth Larson, Paule Desgroseilliers, Wendy Carr and Sharon Lapkin. The researchers were studying a persistent problem that is experienced across the country, and certainly in British Columbia: a high demand for French Second Language programs, and a short supply of qualified teachers.
The Importance of the Study
This is a subject that has been studied in most jurisdictions in the country over the last decade. The difference in this study is the national perspective. Recognizing that a key to the success of the Official Languages Act is providing opportunities to learn a second language, the Commissioner sees the problem of access as a pressing one. Considering the problem from a national perspective presents the opportunity to develop remedies that apply across jurisdictions.
Wendy Carr, Professor, UBC, was one of the researchers. She believes that the heightened awareness, at both federal and provincial government levels, of issues facing French language learning across Canada, is promising. “The amount of attention being paid to this persistent problem is unprecedented and it is very encouraging to see funding being focused on addressing the issue of recruitment and retention of FSL teachers.” Carr is also encouraged by the fact that strategies for addressing the issue include more professional development for practicing teachers. She points to a current initiative in Vancouver where practicing teachers and teacher candidates from UBC attend weekend retreats together to enhance their linguistic and pedagogical skills. “By building the skills and confidence level of current FSL teachers, we improve the teaching in all programs and make it possible for some teachers, for example, those in Core or Intensive French, to consider shifting into immersion programs.”
General conclusions drawn by the researchers include:
- There is a need for greater collaboration and leadership across the country and among Ministries of Education, Faculties of Education, and School Boards within each province.
- There should be standardized FSL Teacher qualifications across the country.
- Attention needs to be paid to professional development and better working conditions for teachers of FSL.
- There must be greater promotion of the value of careers in French Second Language education.
What follows is a summary of the methods, findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the report. The full study can be found here.
According to a recent poll, Canadians (80%) recognize the need to foster bilingualism, especially among youth, and agree that both English and French should be taught at school. They agree that more needs to be done so that youth can become bilingual, and that provincial governments should make more spaces available in French immersion programs. Of the Canadian Anglophones who speak French, 79% learned the language in school. So, being able to learn French at school is particularly important for English speakers. Canadians polled also identified access as the most common barrier to learning French.
The objectives of the current study, conducted between December 2017 and March 2018, were to identify:
- the extent and nature of the challenge of supply and demand,
- current and possible measures the variety of stakeholders involved could take to address the challenge, and
- factors inhibiting FSL education graduates from taking FSL teaching positions where there is a demand for the speciality.
Researchers conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed personnel from Ministries of Education, Faculties of Education, and School Boards across the country to explore the issues related to supply and demand. They also interviewed groups of teacher candidates and conducted an on-line survey of over 100 teacher candidates to determine their needs.
Findings of the Study
Review of the Literature: The study confirmed a broad consensus across Canada that there is an increase in the demand for FSL teachers and a shortage of qualified FSL teachers across the country, especially for the growing demand for French Immersion programs. There are also challenges filling spaces in teacher education programs, a need to revitalize support for Core French programs, a problem with teacher mobility in rural and remote areas, a problem with retention of FSL teachers, and a lack of professional development opportunities.
The challenge is to some degree unique from province to province. In the Maritimes, with French-language and English-language school systems, there is strong competition for the same teacher candidates. In Quebec, it is particularly important for English-speaking students to have opportunities to learn French while keeping their communities vital. Quebec also experiences the competition for teachers in French and English systems. Ontario has the largest enrolment in French language programs which adds pressure for a supply of teachers. The problem is so extreme, that one school district contemplated cancelling French Immersion as a way to address the shortage. Western Canada has the added problem of very small populations of French speakers going into post secondary, and they are experiencing too few students graduating from Faculties of Education in FSL. In the North, the prominence of Indigenous languages and the remoteness of the communities create unique challenges for recruitment and retention of FSL teachers. In British Columbia, the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada reducing class size has added to the pressures. The high cost of housing also contributes to the difficulty in recruiting FSL teachers.
The study also identified strategies the various jurisdictions are implementing to address the problems. In Atlantic Canada, a government study noted increasing retirements and would add to the problems with supply of FSL teachers. They recommended that employers use proactive recruitment strategies and anticipate increased remuneration. A pilot program for support of FSL teachers in PEI is showing some promise. Experiencing a high drop out rate in teacher education programs, the Quebec government allocated $15M per year over five years to encourage students to complete their final practicum. In Ontario, the Public School Boards Association has engaged in a study about recruitment and retention of FSL teachers. In Alberta, there has been recruitment from out of province to address the shortage of teachers. A 2016 report in BC recommended an increase in promotional strategies, funding for professional development, increased partnerships with teacher education institutions in France, and loan forgiveness for students who can speak French and want to complete a degree in FSL. British Columbia recently announced one-time funding to UBC and SFU to increase spaces in FSL teacher education.
Interview Findings: In interviews with some personnel from Ministries of Education, Faculties of Education, School Boards across the country, challenges were also noted.
Ministries of Education expressed an overall a concern with supply and demand of FSL teachers. They are concerned that the shortage sometimes results in positions being filled with candidates with inadequate linguistic and/or cultural competence. Candidates that come from other countries often have trouble adjusting to the context of the Canadian education system. Some of the initiatives they are using to address the situation fall into the categories of strategies for recruitment into the profession, financial support, professional learning, cultural support, administrative support, and support with resources. They highlighter the importance of maintaining a high standard of French proficiency.
School boards were also unanimous in their agreement about a shortage in FSL teachers with adequate competencies. They are concerned about the lack of people applying for positions posted and feel they sometimes fill positions by lowering requirements. They identified challenges in working conditions for FSL teachers, lack of resources, inadequate administrative support, lack of coordination between school districts and faculties of education. Teachers sometimes leave French teaching to go into the English stream. It is a priority to fill French Immersion positions, which often leaves few FSL teachers for Core French. School boards have tried a number of strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers which are outlined in the study.
Faculties of Education agree there needs to be an increase in numbers of spaces for FSL. They know they are not meeting the demand. They agree they could improve their recruitment strategies. They reported that students graduating from FSL teacher education programs are often recruited even before they complete the program and that almost all are employed following graduation.
Teacher Candidates: Over one hundred teacher candidates from across the country answered a number of questions about factors that influence their applying for positions. Location, affordability, benefits, dedicated staff and resources, and programming were factors suggested. All factors were identified as important, but most important was working with a dedicated staff. Half the respondents would relocate for a position and funding would help with that decision. Teacher candidates mostly use school district platforms to look for positions and suggest that one on-line platform on which they could search all positions open would be of help. They are concerned about school districts hiring teachers with low French language proficiency. Their greatest concern as potential FSL teachers is working conditions.
The Commissioner noted that considerable momentum is already building as a result of the federal government’s 2018-2023 Action Plan for Official Languages. Over $31.3 million has been committed over four years to support strategies to recruit more FSL teachers and $12.6 million is allocated for bursaries for English-speaking students who want to study FSL in post secondary. The findings of the current study and other recent reports are being discussed across the country and there has been some implementation of recommendations.
Having considered the findings of the study the Commissioner has made a number of recommendations within his federal mandate. Overall, he recommends that the federal minister responsible for second languages assume a clear leadership role in addressing the challenges of FSL teacher supply and demand, and work with the provinces and territories to identify specific strategies for recruitment and retention. More specific recommendations include:
The Minister should:
- Establish a national FSL consultation table to develop and lead a long-term national strategy for FSL recruitment and retention.
- Work with provincial and territorial partners and teacher associations to encourage greater standardization of FSL language competency and to support ongoing professional support.
- Work with provincial and territorial partners to develop a free, federally funded on-line job search platform for FSL positions from across Canada.
- Ensure a timely and effective dispensation of the fund in the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018-2023.
The Commissioner also invited the minister to:
- Ask provincial ministries and faculties of education to consider working more closely with school boards and professional teacher associations to address challenges.
- Explore the possibility of granting bursaries for teacher candidates seeking to improve their French language skills.
- Engage in a promotional campaign to raise awareness among FSL high school students about careers in FSL teaching.
- Work with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada to explore ways to facilitate the process for French-speaking immigrants with education degrees in their own countries to attain FSL teaching positions in Canadian classrooms.