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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

Canadians, bilingualism, and education

By Pierre Blouin

In July 1963, the government of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism to "inquire into and report upon the existing state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada and to recommend what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding races, taking into account the contribution made by the other ethnic groups."

This year, 40 years after the recommendations of the commission, also known as the Laurendeau–Dunton commission, Radio-Canada contracted the firm CROP to survey Canadians on the state of bilingualism in our country. The results represent the views of francophones and anglophones in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Here are the main findings of the survey:

  • Eight out of 10 Canadians are in favor of bilingualism. 93% of francophones and 77% of anglophones support it. The support is strongest among students (96%), bilingual people (95%), and people who completed university (85%).
  • In the same proportion, Canadians think that the probability of getting a better job is a legitimate reason to become bilingual. Just over 75% of Canadians think that travel and personal cultural enhancement is a good reason to support bilingualism. Moreover, half the respondents consider the desire to be a good Canadian citizen can motivate people to learn both languages.
  • 50% agree with the opinion that not enough courses are offered to learn "the other language."
  • 71% of Canadians outside Quebec favour the teaching of French in all primary schools and 68% in all secondary schools.
  • 16% of Canadians, outside Quebec, affirm that they are bilingual; 56% of Quebecois say that they are bilingual.
  • 91% of Canadians think that the prime minister should speak both languages.

These findings seem to support the direction taken by the federal government in adopting the Action Plan for Official Languages in March 2003. The bilingualism action plan sets the following objectives for education in Canada:

  • Increase the proportion of eligible students enrolled in French schools outside Quebec from 68% to 80% in 10 years.
  • Double the number of young Canadians who know the other official language from 24% to 50% in 10 years. One-out-of-every-two young Canadians should be able to speak both English and French in 10 years.
  • Increase the quality of language instruction, including making it more accessible.
  • Increase the number of language instructors.
  • Provide more exchange programs and bursaries.

To achieve these goals in BC, where the large majority of teachers providing French instruction don’t speak the language, the key players in education should take some steps to provide professional development opportunities for teachers to learn French and the pedagogy of teaching a second language. They should also look at the challenges encountered in recruiting French teachers. In immersion, where the number of registrations is climbing very rapidly (in September 2006, there were 4,030 Grade 1 students registered in French Immersion compared to 2,779 in Grade 5—a 45% increase), recruitment of French teachers will become critical to the survival of this program.

Pierre Blouin, Syndicat enseignant.e.s programme francophone (SEPF).

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