Officials from School District 48 are applauding a recent commitment from the B.C. government to recruit French teachers from abroad to help fill job shortages across the province.
Education minister Rob Fleming led a delegation of B.C. education officials on a trip to Europe this week to discuss opportunities for students in French-speaking teacher training programs, and for existing teachers, in France and Belgium to work in B.C. Fleming also signed bilateral agreements with the governments of France and the Netherlands to promote French-language teacher and student exchanges, as well as the sharing of education-related best practices.
“I know how important French language learning is to parents and students in British Columbia. This mission expands on the efforts currently underway by government, the BC Public School Employers' Association and B.C.'s school districts to recruit teachers,” Fleming said in a release. “This is a great opportunity to promote further collaboration to help us in attracting French teachers to B.C.”
With demand surging for French immersion in the Sea to Sky, School District 48 (SD48) director of human resources Brenda Paul welcomed the move.
“From our perspective, having experienced a teacher shortage, and in particular with French immersion and some of those harder-to-fill specialty jobs, I think anything we can do collectively in the sector to help promote and attract qualified teachers is a good thing,” she said. “We’re excited about what that might be able to do to assist our district.”
Although not hit as hard as some other districts around the province, SD48 has also faced challenges recruiting and retaining French instructors. Ahead of the 2017-18 academic year, French-language teachers were recruited from Quebec to fill job openings in the corridor, but “some … were here for about a half a year and found it wasn’t really the right fit for them,” noted Paul. “That left us in a position where they went back to Quebec and we had to look for teachers internally.”
That makes offering incentives to improve retention rates of French-language teachers in the district all the more important, Paul posited.
“I think it would make really good sense to give people some kind of relief when they’re here. The challenge today is finding (housing), first of all, and if you can find it, can you afford to sustain that over time?” she said.
The situation has become so dire in the Lower Mainland that the Vancouver School Board began offering a $1,500 moving allowance as an incentive to out-of-province teachers for the first time this year. “I am hoping (the province) is going to be doing those kinds of initiatives as part of this, and then hopefully everything will catch up over time and we’ll be in a really good place,” added Paul.
District officials, in February, also announced they would be ending the late-entry French immersion program, which starts in Grade 5, at all Squamish schools. It’s being replaced with an early French immersion program for students heading into Kindergarten or Grade 1.
The province is already working on ways to increase domestic hires with the creation of 37 additional spaces in French teacher-education programs at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University over the next two years. The government is also providing those schools with $180,000 to support programs that will help recruit and retain students to French teaching courses.
Glyn Lewis, executive director of the Canadian Parents for French for B.C. and Yukon, said the organization has been calling on the provincial and federal governments to take action on the growing teacher shortage for years.
“It was really frustrating for us to see the French teacher shortage get worse and worse and the government consistently fail to respond,” he said.
“Finally, after five years of raising this issue, we’re starting to see some initiative, and we think it’s a really good move for the provincial government.”
Meanwhile, in the recent federal budget, Ottawa committed funds to address the recruitment and retention of teachers who teach French and English as a second language, part of a larger five-year, $400-million plan aimed at strengthening minority communities and promoting bilingualism.
Enrolment in French immersion has skyrocketed in many parts of the country, with a 20-per-cent increase nationwide between 2011-12 and 2015-16, according to Statistics Canada. In B.C., enrolment has increased by almost two per cent since the 2015-16 school year, hampered by the lack of qualified teachers and limited classroom space.
“Between what this federal government is doing with funding, and what the provincial government can do in terms of agreements and increased capacity at post-secondary institutions, I think we can solve this,” Lewis said. “For the first time in at least five years, I’m hopeful that we’ve actually got some initiative in place now.”