In a bilingual Canada, many view a second language as an essential component of good education. Hence, many parents rush to enroll their children in French programs. However, concerns arise when the overwhelming popularity of French immersion programs phase out the existence of English-only programs. The disappearance of English-only programs creates issues for children struggling to learn an additional language. Pineland Public School in Burlington is in the process of transitioning to an immersion-only school, forcing students in the English program transfer schools in order to remain in the English stream. This concept is explored in this Globe and Mail article.
The unintentional divide in the Ontario public school system
The unfortunate reality is that the emergence of French immersion has created an unintentional divide in the public school system in Ontario. The French program is commonly associated with a higher-quality education attracting “children from richer, more educated families.” Less wealthy families are less likely to enroll their children in the French program, creating an economic gap between the students in the French and English programs. In addition, the view that French immersion programs are more rigorous resulted in a lower proportion of learning-disabled student enrollment.
These commonly held views of the two programs create a negative feedback loop that further discourages parents from choosing the English program. Ms. McIntosh, a mother whose daughter struggled in French, was initially hesitant to switch her daughter to English-only because of the greater presence of students with “behavioural and learning issues.” She feared that a teacher with so many other matters to attend to would not be able to cater to her daughter’s educational needs.
Schools’ attempt against the divide
This fear appears to be a common one in surrounding school boards, as the number of English-enrolled students is dwindling as French enrollment rises. In Tom Thomson Public School, out of the 57 first graders enrolled, only four are in the English program. These figures are especially concerning when one considers the environment in which these four students will be learning for the remainder of their elementary school experience. If nothing changes, these four students will be forced to share classrooms with other students from different grades and will have limited opportunities to interact with other children in school, an important aspect to the effective social development of young children.
While there is no quick solution to the growing problem, some school boards are beginning to implement restrictions on the size of French immersion programs in order to maintain a balance between the English and French programs. When enrollment exceeds the number of available spots, a lottery system is used. Another school district exposes children to the bilingual system in junior kindergarten, rather than senior, providing parents with an entire extra year to decide whether the French immersion program is actually in their child’s best interests. While no solution is perfect, it is important to realize that a solution is necessary in order to resolve the issues that have arisen from the overwhelming growth of French immersion.
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This post was written by Melissa Yu