Lot­tery losses have B.C. par­ents hop­ing for French teach­ers from Europe

Kingston Whig-Standard - - NATIONAL - CAMILLE BAINS

VAN­COU­VER — Bri­tish Columbia par­ents who have lost the chance to get their chil­dren into French im­mer­sion through a lot­tery sys­tem are hop­ing the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter’s teacher-re­cruit­ment trip to Europe will cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for early bilin­gual­ism.

Ra­hel Stae­heli said she reg­is­tered her daugh­ter Mi­lani for French im­mer­sion at two schools but learned in Fe­bru­ary that she didn’t get a kinder­garten spot for Septem­ber, land­ing her at 53rd and 57th place on wait lists.

Stae­heli has since reg­is­tered Mi­lani at a third school fur­ther from their home in Sur­rey, only to see her at the bot­tom of an­other wait list.

“We con­tacted the school board af­ter we found out our wait-list num­bers and they ba­si­cally said, ‘You’re never get­ting in,’ ” she said.

“We’re re­ally dis­ap­pointed to learn that there isn’t nec­es­sar­ily an equal op­por­tu­nity for all chil­dren to learn our sec­ond na­tional lan­guage,” said Stae­heli, adding her fa­ther speaks English, French, Swiss, Span­ish and Swiss Ger­man, and she wants her chil­dren to at least be con­ver­sant in Canada’s two of­fi­cial lan­guages.

She said her daugh­ter may have to wait to get into early French im­mer­sion in Grade 1, but fears she may again lose out on a spot be­cause chil­dren with si­b­lings al­ready in the pro­gram are given pri­or­ity.

That would have Mi­lani and stu­dents in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion wait­ing to en­ter “late” French im­mer­sion in Grade 6, when they would have to change schools if the pro­gram isn’t of­fered at their school. Fortyeight of 60 school dis­tricts of­fer the pro­gram.

Par­ents in var­i­ous prov­inces share Stae­heli’s frus­tra­tion, but ad­vo­cates in B.C. say de­mand for French im­mer­sion en­rol­ment is par­tic­u­larly strong in their prov­ince, where a Supreme Court of Canada de­ci­sion in Novem­ber 2016 re­stored small class sizes, re­quir­ing more teach­ers in all sub­jects.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Rob Flem­ing said nearly 3,700 teach­ers over­all have been hired in the last year and the hir­ing process con­tin­ues, but de­mand for French im­mer­sion far out­strips the num­ber of avail­able teach­ers, leav­ing the prov­ince com­pet­ing for ed­u­ca­tors with other ju­ris­dic­tions in Canada.

Flem­ing said 37 of 100 new seats added to ed­u­ca­tion fac­ul­ties at Bri­tish Columbia uni­ver­si­ties are specif­i­cally for those in­tend­ing to teach French im­mer­sion, which is taught to al­most 10 per cent of B.C.’s pub­lic school pop­u­la­tion.

His trip to France and Bel­gium ear­lier this month was an “ag­gres­sive” ef­fort to re­cruit French teach­ers, he said, adding the prov­ince made as­sur­ances about re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers to tem­po­rary work per­mits and cit­i­zen­ship, along with faster ac­cred­i­ta­tion of ed­u­ca­tion de­grees and teacher li­cens­ing.

“I think what this trip was re­ally about was open­ing doors of re­cruit­ment, to let the gov­ern­ments of France and Bel­gium know that we’re se­ri­ous about the teach­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist here in B.C., which means pro­mot­ing B.C. as a vi­brant, dy­namic part of Canada that is not On­tario and Que­bec, which they’re most fa­mil­iar with,” Flem­ing said.

“Ninety-five per cent of the busi­ness they cur­rently do is with Que­bec. They are not aware that the an­glo­phone prov­inces have a sig­nif­i­cant and grow­ing in­ter­est in French-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion,” he said, adding B.C. would pay for teach­ers’ re­lo­ca­tion costs and pro­vide schol­ar­ships for those want­ing to com­plete their train­ing at the prov­ince’s French-teacher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions.

Glyn Lewis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the B.C. and Yukon chap­ter of Cana­dian Par­ents for French, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion noted a wors­en­ing teacher-sup­ply prob­lem four years ago and is­sued a re­port, but re­ceived lit­tle re­sponse from ei­ther pro­vin­cial or fed­eral gov­ern­ments.

“Last spring when the Van­cou­ver School Board cut a quar­ter of its pro­gram and turned all those fam­i­lies away be­cause they couldn’t find teach­ers I went to the (pro­vin­cial) gov­ern­ment and said, ‘We told you this was go­ing to hap­pen.’ ”

A lot­tery sys­tem for Frenchim­mer­sion reg­is­tra­tion was in­tro­duced by some school dis­tricts to re­place long pre-reg­is­tra­tion line­ups out­side schools, where par­ents of­ten camped out over sev­eral days.

“Fam­i­lies are still be­ing turned away, whether through a lot­tery sys­tem, a cam­pout or a wait-list sys­tem at 20 of 48 school dis­tricts,” Lewis said.

Her­itage Canada spokesman Si­mon Ross said the de­part­ment has hiked fund­ing for var­i­ous French­language pro­grams, in­clud­ing $31 mil­lion to re­cruit more im­mer­sion and French-as-a—sec­ond-lan­guage teach­ers as part of a plan to in­crease the bilin­gual­ism rate of English speak­ers out­side Que­bec.

DAR­RYL DYCK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Mi­lani Stae­heli-Hilde­brand, 5, is pushed on a swing by her mom Ra­hel Stae­heli at a play­ground near their home in Sur­rey, B.C., on Wed­nes­day.

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