Parents across Ontario strive to put their children into a French immersion program. But while they may do so with the hopes of putting them on the path to bilingualism, the program actually facilitates an elitist education system and separates high achievers away from their lower-achieving peers. 

Children in French immersion are taught English for half the school day and French for the other half. Fluency is not an explicit goal of the program until high school; rather, students learn how to communicate in French at a conversational level at best. 

The flaws extend deeper when looking at academic performance in the program compared to a non-immersion program. The Record obtained data from standardized test results in Grade 3 for Ontario schools with both non-immersion and immersion streams. 78 percent of immersion students met provincial standards for writing, reading, and math, which is well over the Ontario average of 70 percent. Meanwhile, barely half the students in non-immersion streams in the same schools met the provincial standards. 

It seems that French immersion facilitates an obvious divide among students based on academic ability, which is not its stated intention. This separation is self-perpetuating as the high achieving students in French immersion are motivated by their high achieving peers, and non-immersion students encounter more problems with behaviour and motivation. What’s more, even as classrooms implement more technology, it still fails to bridge the gap between both programs. Some parents even misunderstand French immersion as an enrichment program rather than a program that is simply – and vaguely – designed to teach children French at a young age. 

The problem is, there is a high demand among parents for French immersion programs. Ending the program does not seem like a viable option for educators at this time. If French immersion is going to thrive in Ontario, it needs to be done in a way that fairly treats students of all academic abilities and openly offers opportunity for all students. 

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This post was written by McKenzie Cline