Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 18 - Evidence - Meeting of April 15, 2013
OTTAWA, Monday, April 15, 2013
The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 5 p.m. to conduct a study on best practices for language policies and second-language learning in the context of linguistic duality or plurality.
Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput, from Manitoba, chair of the committee.
Before introducing the witnesses appearing today, I would invite the members of the committee to introduce themselves, starting with the member to my left.
Senator McIntyre: Good evening, I am Senator Paul McIntyre from New Brunswick.
Senator McInnis: Senator Tom McInnis, Nova Scotia. I am here substituting for Senator Poirier from New Brunswick.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I am Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis from Quebec City.
Senator Mockler: Good evening, I am Senator Percy Mockler from New Brunswick.
Senator De Bané: Good evening, I am Senator Pierre De Bané from Quebec.
Senator Robichaud: Good evening, I am Senator Fernand Robichaud from Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Tardif: Good evening, my name is Claudette Tardif, and I am a senator from Alberta.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Today, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages begins its study on the best practices for language policies and second-language learning in the context of linguistic duality or plurality. The committee is pleased to welcome representatives of Canadian Parents for French as our first witnesses to speak about second-language learning in Canada.
On behalf of the committee members, I would like to thank the witnesses for taking the time to give us their perspective and answer our questions. The committee has asked the witnesses to make a presentation of about 10 minutes, and the senators will follow with questions. I now invite Ms. Perkins to take the floor.
Lisa Marie Perkins, President, National Board, Canadian Parents for French: On behalf of Canadian Parents for French, I would like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages for having invited us to speak, and to speak first, no less, I am hearing.
I am Lisa Marie Perkins.
I am from Red Deer, Alberta, and I am the president of Canadian Parents for French, National Board.
With me today are my colleagues Rita Parikh, who resides in the beautiful province of British Columbia, and our executive director, who keeps things strong here at home, Mr. Robert Rothon.
As most of you already know, CPF is an organization of parents with over 22,000 members, nine provincial and territorial offices, and some 150 local branches in communities across the country.
Your committee is focused on FSL and the success and limitations of current programs, especially as they relate to our changing social demographics and linguistic duality.
At CPF, we strongly believe that FSL education is an opportunity for every child. It benefits our children, our communities and our country. Thus, no child should be disenfranchised by not having access to the FSL program of their choice. This is why our last two state-of-French-second-language reports commissioned research on French second-language learning as it relates to children whose first language is neither French nor English and to students who are experiencing exceptional educational needs.
Recent statistics indicate that one in five Canadians is an immigrant, that immigration is and will continue to be the primary source of population growth in our country, and that currently 90 per cent of our immigration stream is comprised of those who speak neither English nor French at home. If you compare these demographic statistics with our enrolment statistics, this is a population that is largely under-represented in our French-language programs.
Why do we care about that? Of course, there is a fairness perspective. We believe we have an obligation to ensure that every segment of our population has an equal opportunity to learn and to be proficient in their second official language, to be part of a workplace where bilingualism is demanded, and to experience or gain entry to the richness of the francophile and francophone culture.
Beyond that, linguistic duality as rooted in our two official languages is an essential element to our Canadian identity, and the continued exclusion of this demographic group through policies and educational programs will ultimately pose a fundamental challenge to the notion of linguistic duality and thus to our very understanding of what it means to be a Canadian.
Rita Parikh, Member, National Board, Canadian Parents for French: As you know, it is more often the case than not that it is the parents, not the children, who are making educational choices for their kids. We know from the research that parents do not enrol their children in French immersion or French as a subject, in part because they feel English is more of a priority or they feel their child might not succeed in French.
What is most disturbing here is that they are getting these cues directly from the educators themselves. Studies indicate that teachers and principals consistently counsel parents not to enrol their children in French immersion, for instance, because it will interfere with their ability to learn English, which they indicate is more practical, simply more useful for them.
They also tell parents bluntly that learning French will be tough for those kids. In a study in Ontario, for instance, researchers found that educators felt it would be a burden for ESL children to learn French. However, the evidence is fairly clear that children whose mother tongue is neither English nor French can attain marks or proficiency levels that meet or exceed those of their anglophone counterparts in both core French and in French immersion at the elementary and secondary level.
We found these findings were consistent even at the post-secondary level, even in instances where anglophone students had had up to five years more French-language instruction than the immigrant children. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that immigrant children will acquire proficiency in English as long as they are in communities where English is a dominant language.
At the same time, there are ministry-level policies that bolster exclusionary attitudes. For instance, the policy B.C.'s Ministry of Education states that all students must take a second language as part of the curriculum between grades 5 and 8, except where those students are identified as having special needs or are ESL students. Districts interpret this policy in different ways. In Victoria, where I am from, the language coordinator indicates that nearly every student taking ESL is exempt from taking French and that they take ESL during their French course.
There are also ministry policies that encourage heritage language learning. What we see here is that many parents and educators see French and heritage languages as being in competition with each other and not as complementary, as CPF views them to be.
As you discussed with our colleagues in 2012, B.C.'s education system offers a wide range of heritage languages, including Mandarin, Japanese, Punjabi and so on. Some parents and teachers feel these heritage languages are as important or more important. What many fail to recognize, however, is that speaking a heritage language generally strengthens one's ability to become proficient in French. In fact, the research in one study shows that the greater the frequency of heritage language use at home, the higher the scores become in French proficiency. In short, they need not be in competition with each other.
Beyond all of this, though, what we see time and again is that parents of children who speak neither French nor English at home are often unaware of French-language programs to begin with. We know that the promotion of French programs varies from district to district, with some schools having day-long orientation programs for parents, and some schools forbidding any information about French-language programs to go home in schoolchildren's backpacks. There is quite a range. What is consistent is that no school that we encountered provides information about French-language programs specifically to immigrant parents.
Our first set of recommendations in the briefs that you will receive within the next few weeks focuses on outreach and promotion, not only to parents but also to the real gatekeepers in this instance who, we feel, are the educators and the principals.
The second set of recommendations, however, relates much more broadly to access. As you know, we can open the gates, inform the parents and mobilize thousands more Canadians to enrol and to sign their kids up for French, but it is not going to do any good in most instances because there is simply nowhere to place them. The recommendations you will see in our brief relate to trying to address some of those fundamental barriers of access to French, the removal of caps, enhancement of numbers of teachers, the transportation to French programs, and enhancement of the number of programs, the number of seats available to these students.
I will turn it back over to Ms. Perkins to speak about how you might be able to support us in those efforts.
Ms. Perkins: Canadian Parents for French and the federal government are long-standing allies in this struggle. We have the same vision of Canada's linguistic duality. We have to work together to promote this vision and eliminate the many obstacles faced by immigrant youth, as well as many Canadian children across the country, no matter what their background.
We can do this by working together to build a comprehensive promotional program that speaks directly to all Canadians, to our immigrant families, to the educational community and to provincial ministerial staff more broadly. We can collaborate with you and with our many francophone and research partners to help identify the critical areas of research that need to be conducted to support that awareness raising and our outreach efforts.
We would like to work with you to put some teeth into these OLEP agreements that present real goals, ambitious but achievable targets around increasing the number of children enrolled in French language and preferably early immersion programs. We can strengthen existing efforts to select a common proficiency standard to which all children of French second-language studies may aspire.
Most of all, we can use your support, your funding, your policies, your guidance and your encouragement to help us serve parents and communities all over this great country who, after all, are the ones on the front lines. They are demanding more immersion spaces, raising money for transportation and textbooks, headhunting for teachers and supporting their children.
As National President for CPF, I thank you for your time. I am an FI graduate with a son following in my footsteps, and I know that the gift of French second-language education is one of the most profound and lasting gifts given or received. No child should be denied this gift because there is not enough room in a classroom, no qualified teacher or because they are deemed ineligible. Our children deserve better and so does our country.
Thank you to each and every one of you for your time.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: First of all, I would like to say again that I am very happy that you are appearing before the committee today. My questions do not necessarily have to do with the difficulties you described that immigrants and immigrant children face. Their situation is difficult. They do not urge their children to learn, while they are sometimes required to learn English first.
I have a statistic for you. Data compiled in 2011 indicate that close to 98 per cent of the Canadian population can hold a conversation in either language. However, only 17.5 per cent of Canadians can do so in both official languages.
Given that you sometimes receive reports that come from all over Canada, would you say that the current education system enables children to become bilingual?
Ms. Perkins: First of all, thank you very much. I will address your question about immigrants first.
One of the things I would say is our studies indicate that those children and those families do want to have their children educated in French as a second language. It is just not always an option given to them, which is why we would say awareness.
With respect to what is going on across the country and whether our school systems are equipped to give our children the opportunity to be bilingual, immersion and FSL programs vary greatly across the country in the number of subjects taught throughout the year. For example, in some places in Alberta, grade 12 French immersion means you take no courses in French.
In the Calgary school system, students need to take five courses in French, in subjects like the sciences, math, and French as a second language.
The ability of someone coming out of grade 12 FSL varies greatly, which is why we would say that proficiency benchmarks, standardized across the country, would be useful, not just for people outside knowing what bilingualism means and to what standard.
In addition, young people need to be confident in their ability to express themselves in their second language.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: To your knowledge, have you seen that some territories or provinces perform better than others in second-language teaching?
Robert Rothon, Executive Director, National Office, Canadian Parents for French: It is difficult to assess, given that standards vary so much from one province to the next. An interesting indicator would be the percentage of the student population enrolled in an immersion program, for example. This is not the only French as a second language program. In that regard, we can look to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The Maritime Provinces have been very successful in this area. However, the numbers are not enough, as we saw during the so-called reform of the French immersion program in New Brunswick, which many parents saw as a fairly controversial move.
I am trying to be tactful.
Senator Mockler: But not the majority.
Mr. Rothon: No. Having said that, let us say that it was a contentious issue, and we monitored the situation carefully. However, it is but one indicator. We have already made the comment that more research needs to be done to really assess the situation and answer this question, which is an easy one. The way I see it, getting a complete answer would involve a relatively long process with respect to analysis, assessment and other aspects.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Mr. Rothon, my third question is for you. Are you familiar with the practices in other countries where linguistic duality is present to encourage second-language learning?
Mr. Rothon: I can tell you about Finland, for example, which looked at the Canadian immersion model closely. Ms. Parikh can tell you about India, where they teach three languages.
I think as of the primary years, do they not?
Ms. Parikh: Depending on the school and the class, but certainly English and Hindi are the two languages of instruction at most schools.
Mr. Rothon: To which they would normally add a third state language.
Ms. Parikh: Yes.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: And were they successful?
Mr. Rothon: Yes. In the brief we plan to send you in the next few weeks, we will certainly be able to add a small section, for reference at least, about the success of these two programs, if you wish.
Senator De Bané: On page 7 of your submission you refer to a brief that we had last year from British Columbia and Yukon. One of the requests is recognition of the right to learn in French across the country as an official language of Canada, rather than as foreign language instruction on par with the right to minority language education, as recognized by section 23 of the Constitution. Can you explain that paragraph?
Ms. Parikh: If I understood your question correctly, B.C. has indeed indicated that they will provide second- language education based on the heritage and language that is demanded in the community. No ministerial policy says that the second language on offer needs to be French. There has to be a second language learned between grades 5 and 8, or 4 and 8, depending on the district, but it does not specify which language that must be. It is very much up to the parents and the decision makers in the district to choose which language that will be. In many instances, schools offer heritage languages plus French. Some districts choose not to offer French.
Ms. Perkins: Canadian Parents for French recognizes the rights of francophones to receive their first-language education especially in situations of language minority. I think when our colleagues at CPFBC came and proposed that, it goes along with our idea in the brief, namely that no child should be denied their opportunity to become proficient in both of Canada's official languages. In fact, they are the official languages of all Canadians, and what better place to start than in kindergarten, the entry-level in the school system, whether we call it a right or we just make sure everyone has an opportunity to make an informed choice.
Senator De Bané: How would you say second-language learning is being promoted in our country?
Ms. Perkins: That depends enormously on the Canadian province or territory. Our school system in Red Deer —
— is one of the great promoters of second-language learning. No child is turned away and they open up a classroom at every opportunity to make sure every child can access French second-language learning. You can go across the country and parents are not made aware of that, especially in immigrant family situations.
Again, sometimes the reasons why a school district may not promote French second-language options is because they do not have space or room, because they do not have qualified teachers, because they do not have the resources to offer the program successfully. Those are some of the reasons you will not see it promoted as strongly.
It varies enormously across the country.
Ms. Parikh: I agree with that.
I will add that Canadian Parents for French is made up of chapters across the country and those chapters are made up of parents. In some chapters parents go out to day cares and preschools and present on the FSL opportunities because they want all parents at these schools to know that there are early immersion entry points for their children.
I come from a district that has the highest percentage of its population enrolled in immersion in the country, I believe. That is also because we are fortunate enough to have a language coordinator who pays for brochures to go home in every kid's backpack. We also know that in some provinces CPF has gone out to employers and talked to them about the benefits of hiring children who are bilingual, and those employers then start to post ads for bilingual children. Those are cues to schools and districts that they need to promote these programs, in turn, to the kids in their districts. There are many approaches to immersion and it is very ad hoc.
One other point, we also have a number of immigrant-specific programs. We have brochures printed in Punjabi, Mandarin, and Japanese that speak specifically about the French-language programs, and they are directed to the parents.
Senator Tardif: I would like to congratulate the members of Canadian Parents for French. For a number of years, this organization has promoted French learning and bilingualism, and is making a real contribution to our Canadian society. I thank your organization for all the work it has done. I have had the opportunity to work with CPF a number of times, and I can assure you that it was always a pleasure to speak to the parents and teachers, and to promote this cause with you.
Can you please tell us which Canadian provinces and territories have made French instruction mandatory?
Mr. Rothon: Oddly enough, a mother telephoned me last week to ask me that question. I will check what I said, but from memory, studying French is not mandatory in Alberta, British Columbia or Manitoba. However, it is in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, but not in the three territories. In Ontario, yes; in Quebec, yes, with a qualification. In Quebec, it varies so much from one school board to the next that you could hardly say that it is available across the province consistently. It is in Prince Edward Island, not in Saskatchewan, but it is in the Yukon. Roughly half the provinces require students to have instruction in French as a second language at some point. It is often a basic French course, and very rarely is it immersion.
Senator Tardif: Fine. For people who would like to fully understand the terms, does a basic French course involve about 40 to 50 minutes a day, for example?
Mr. Rothon: Per day, that is already a lot. Yes.
Senator Tardif: Okay. In roughly half the Canadian provinces, instruction in French, one of the country's official languages, is not mandatory at any time?
Mr. Rothon: That is correct.
Senator Tardif: It is an appalling situation, be it at the grade 10, 11 or 12 level, at the elementary school level or at some other level.
Some organizations tell us that it is very difficult to follow the accountability thread when it comes to provinces that receive some funding under federal-provincial agreements. It is very difficult to know whether the money sent by the federal government is actually invested in the school boards.
Are you familiar with this situation? Do you receive complaints to this effect?
Mr. Rothon: I would say so. Certainly one of the main concerns of parents in the school boards is whether the funds are spent effectively and efficiently. It is not always clear, because the ministry of education does not always require school boards to be accountable and, if they are, the reports are often not very detailed.
Take British Columbia for example. We could describe their methods as a best practice and use it as a model. The school boards are required to send a funds usage report, and those reports are posted on the ministry of education's website, which the public has access to. Improvement could be made in the detail provided for these expenses, which are presented in a way that is so general and global that it is difficult to know whether the money was really spent in an optimal way. Still, it is an excellent start. Other provinces — and perhaps someone can correct me — such as Ontario do not make public the school board expenses of their supplementary funds for French as a second language.
Still, the largest province is not making its accounts public.
Ms. Parikh: CPF has sent a chapter-by-chapter, district-by-district breakdown to parents telling them how much federal money their community received and telling them to ask their school board how they spent it. Some of the parents go to the individual schools and ask how the money was spent, but the numbers to which Robert is referring are at a much higher level. We have found, for instance, that a school will purchase microphones with the money, and that is just the way it is.
Senator Tardif: The government just announced a new official languages roadmap for 2013 to 2018. Does this new roadmap meet your expectations?
Ms. Perkins: We were at the launch of the official languages roadmap with the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Canadian Parents for French applauds the tone of this roadmap. Official bilingualism is something we should be proud of, and we should be setting ambitious targets. The roadmap has a tone of increasing French immersion, exchange programs and a lot about educational opportunities. That speaks right to our heart and our mandate. We are happy that the funding with respect to the OLEP agreements was not decreased. As an organization that would like to see an increase in French language education —
— be it is basic French, French immersion, or something else —
— more money will probably be necessary to ensure that type of promotion, that classrooms, teachers and all of those things are in place. We will have to be working on those pieces.
Mr. Rothon: Immigration is in the roadmap for the first time, to the tune of $125 million, I believe. To us that is a significant development in the roadmap because we have always felt that immigration and citizenship have been missing these sorts of official language initiatives. You would expect this ministry to play a major role, and it is only now that it seems to be willing to play it in a significant way. We were thrilled to see it in the roadmap now. Right now that money is only dedicated to French first-language immigration —
— which is very good for the francophone minority communities. We hope that in the future — which is what we are suggesting — amounts of money intended for immigrants to learn French as a second language will find its way into a subsequent roadmap. If we come back to the figures that Ms. Perkins mentioned at the start of the presentation
You cannot leave such a huge percentage of your population uninvolved in official languages; you cannot put them aside from official languages.
If you do this, we already expect, I think, that by 2030, 30 per cent of Canadians will be a visible minority, which is a very large number, and that excludes other immigrant communities. What is the implication of that for official languages, for the viability of official languages?
Where is the buy-in for official languages and linguistic duality in 30 to 40 per cent of the population in less than a couple of decades?
These are enormous issues for us. Therefore, we highly commend the government for including this measure on immigration in the roadmap. For us, though, we see it only as a start.
Senator McIntyre: Senator Tardif mentioned Canada's official languages roadmap for 2013 to 2018. I would briefly like to address the memorandum of agreement between the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, better known as CMEC, and the Government of Canada.
I understand that the memorandum of understanding expired on March 31, 2013. Do you expect a new one to be developed soon?
Ms. Perkins: Minister Moore indicated to us at that time that the protocols are in the process of being developed and signed between the Council of Ministers of Education Canada and their provincial counterparts, yes.
Mr. Rothon: I remember, for example, that the last memorandum of understanding was signed a year late, I believe. We had a one-year extension. The issue is not whether the memoranda will be renewed, but when and what they will contain.
Of course, we always hope to see a few changes.
The worst case scenario is that it is a status quo renewal. The best case scenario —
— would be that we see things that we would like to see. Better accountability, for example, or stricter requirements on the accountability of school boards and ministries of education.
Senator McIntyre: I was pleased to note that Canadian Parents for French has been made up of volunteers across Canada dating back to 1977. It is my understanding that you have between 150 and 200 chapters across Canada. Am I right to draw the conclusion that recruiting volunteers is not a problem at all?
Ms. Perkins: It is not a problem finding parents and families across the country who want an opportunity for their young people to be enrolled in French second-language learning or to celebrate that most wonderful of accomplishments when they graduate from grade 12. As to finding volunteers to do the leg work, we are like any other organization, unfortunately. However, that means we are like everyone else.
Ms. Parikh: It is easy to find volunteers in a crisis situation. When a program is threatened or when parents want to establish a new program in their community, we have many volunteers. When a program is proceeding very well, as they do in many places, such as in Victoria, there are no volunteers. It very much depends. They rise to the occasion.
Senator McInnis: Of my colleagues in this room, I am the only one encumbered by having only one language, that being English. I envy my colleagues. When I was in grades 9 and 10, one had to stay after school in order to be taught French and Latin. French immersion was fashionable when my two boys went to school, but it ceased when they went into grade 7. It was in place for grades 1 to 6.
You mentioned that it was mandatory in Nova Scotia. It certainly is not mandatory throughout Nova Scotia. In fact, it is not available in most of rural Nova Scotia, which is a shame.
Students who graduate today without the ability to communicate in both official languages have a handicap. They are handicapped from the point of view of employment. For example, it is very difficult to be employed in the federal government if you are not bilingual. That is becoming the case in the RCMP and in certain parts of the Canadian Forces.
I am intrigued by this, but I also understand there is a transfer from the federal government to the provinces. I take it that it is to the provinces and not directly to the school boards. Does anyone police this?
I can tell you this: There is no French immersion along the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, where I come from. That may be predicated on the fact that they are unable to get the teachers qualified to do it. That might be it. In many parts of rural Nova Scotia, it is simply not available. I make that comment because it is an extremely important element of education today. I just wanted to impress that on you and the committee, since I am a visitor here.
Who polices it? Does anyone?
Ms. Perkins: As Mr. Rothon mentioned earlier, that is the OLEP agreements. It varies widely across the country as to how much transparency there is between the money coming from the federal government and how it is applied to the school district, despite the best efforts of organizations like Canadian Parents for French and our members on the ground who ask those questions of their school districts. Where is the money? At the branch level, at the provincial level, they are in constant dialogue with ministers of education asking those same questions, because not knowing your second official language is not an ideal situation. I often say that when you go into a kindergarten classroom and see all the bright faces looking at you, you do not know whether sitting among them is the next head of the International Olympic Committee, a member of the RCMP, a civil servant in the federal government, the president of Canadian Parents for French —
I am bilingual.
— a member of cabinet, a senator or the Prime Minister of Canada. Why would we deny any child the opportunity to become that? Even more importantly, what are we denying ourselves as a country? I just talk about it very plainly from that specific space. Every child deserves their potential.
Mr. Rothon: I would like to say on a more technical note that the national office of Canadian Parents for French is also in dialogue with Canadian Heritage, which negotiates these agreements on behalf of the federal government with the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, which in turn negotiates on behalf of the provincial and territorial ministries. We have also suggested to the Commissioner of Official Languages that he take a look at these negotiations. Again, it was a question of transparency and accountability, making sure that the federal government was getting the most bang for their buck. It came down to how the money is spent and how is it reported on. It makes it very interesting. Once the master protocol has been negotiated between Canadian Heritage and the council of ministers, the various provinces and territories then negotiate their protocols, which reference the master protocol, and the provinces also produces an action plan. British Columbia might get $10 million in additional French-language funding one year, and it is up to the province to determine how it is spent. Who gets it, what is it being spent on and what are the reporting requirements? It is a fascinating and complex process. We do what we can as a not-for-profit, parent-led group, but other actors have a role to play. Again, we always encourage Canadian Heritage to push for greater transparency and accountability when it negotiates with the council of ministers.
Senator Champagne: First of all, I am sorry I was five minutes late. I was working on another file. Being five minutes late is something we should avoid.
Senator McInnis said a few minutes ago that where he was, learning a second language meant you had to stay after school, or it was during recess or before school. As a mother, I wanted to make sure my children would learn music. It was either before school, during recess or after school. I can guarantee you that my son did not study music very long. My daughter was a little more patient, but if my son could go and play whatever sport outside, music lost. He loves music, but he never wants to play it.
In our country, unfortunately, our languages always become a problem between one side or the other. Quebec tried by saying to all new immigrants, "You have to go to French school when you land in Quebec and become a citizen here." Now, they have introduced with Bill 14, which says, for example, that some French-speaking, born-in-Quebec people cannot go to an English-speaking CEGEP or college, which is totally ridiculous. My son went to school in French and then went to CEGEP in English. My daughter went to university in English.
Either Ms. Parikh or Ms. Perkins said that when you are talking to parents, especially if they come from elsewhere and the child already has a language and is learning English, they feel that learning French is going to be so difficult that they will not last. The one thing I would like to say about that is when you have meetings with parents or with teachers, tell those parents that if their child has already learned a second language, which is English in most cases, learning another language is going to be much easier than learning the first one. This should always be said and repeated to parents and to teachers. People learn to speak a second, a third and a fourth language. The second one is the tough one. Whatever it is, be it French, English, German, Italian or Chinese, the second language is the most difficult to learn. After that, it seems like it comes easier. Is that something that is mentioned to your teachers or the parents when you meet with them to encourage them to make sure their child learns the two languages of Canada?
Ms. Parikh: That is a good question. In our experience from talking to immigrant parents about learning French, it is an easy sell. They get it. In general, they came to this country already speaking several languages. They are not the ones who are thinking that learning French is challenging. They get that message directly from the principals and the teachers. Those are the people we encounter in terms of the gatekeepers and the barrier. In some instances, we have focused our educational campaigns directly at the teachers and the language coordinators and the school districts that are talking with the parents and counselling them against enrolling their children in French programs.
Senator Champagne: You mean they have not been fired yet?
Ms. Parikh: We would like to educate. We prefer education, but the message needs to be broadly based. Certainly parents need to be aware that these options are out there, but the school districts and the educators themselves need to understand that it is a myth that learning a third or fourth language is more challenging and will impede their ability to learn English. We need to share those experiences. The immigrant parents get that already. They really do.
Mr. Rothon: I would like to add that we also need ministry of education policies that do not penalize young people who need to take second language courses and, as is often the case, are prevented from taking courses in French as a second language.
Senator Champagne: Either/or.
Mr. Rothon: Either/or.
It should be complementary, and that is what is a little difficult. For example, there was one project in British Columbia, I believe.
We will have to start talking about another province again, soon. For example, there is a question of integrating French with heritage languages under the nomenclature of "additional languages."
The reference was English, but the project had a second component, a more troubling one in my view. If a young person spoke a language other than French or English, in other words, the language of their native country, the province had proposed that the child be exempted from having to learn a second language because he or she already knew one. Therefore, we, on our side, proposed that the child's second language be French, making French his or her third language but second language within the school system. The ministry was not too interested in that proposal.
There are preconceived ideas and basic concepts that we need to reshape. We must bring all of that up to date.
Senator Champagne: I do not think we can accept it being said that, in Canada, French is a foreign language, as we have seen it announced. In Quebec, I have fought and will never stop fighting to ensure that English is not considered a foreign language in the province. It is one of our country's languages.
I cannot commend you enough for what you are doing, and if there is absolutely anything we can do to make things easier for you, believe me, we will. Thank you.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you for being here. We appreciate your presentation. In the 1980s and 1990s, I was the representative for a region in New Brunswick, the south-east. The majority of the population was francophone, but in the south, the majority of people were anglophone. I must say I had some wonderful experiences, and I have the people working at Canadian Parents for French to thank for those experiences. I would go to schools located in completely English-speaking areas, and they would ask me to give my presentation purely in French. The students spoke French well and, in most cases, they were perfectly bilingual by the time they finished school — at least, from what I saw.
The people working in that chapter of the Canadian Parents for French organization were the most motivated individuals you could ever come across. There was no question of brushing them aside; they would go to the mat. I believe it was thanks to their hard work that governments in New Brunswick began to appreciate the fact that they had to do a bit more regarding the second language issue.
You mentioned teachers earlier, saying that some of them did not promote that learning, that they would tell parents it was not worth the trouble or that the students would have a hard time. But do you know whether school boards had difficulty finding teachers who could truly teach the second language, in other words, French in western Canada?
Ms. Parikh: I would say absolutely, and I smile because several years back, I and a number of Canadian Parents for French put a whole bunch of signs up on the lawn of a French immersion teacher who was moving from B.C. to Ontario that said, "Stay in B.C.; B.C. needs you." We have an acute shortage of teachers, particularly in rural areas. It is very hard to attract them. It sounds facetious, but we find parents trying to find husbands for teachers so they will stay in communities. It is like La grande séduction. We talk about some of these challenges, and they are difficult.
At the same time, school districts are pursuing creative strategies. They are engaging in teacher exchanges between provinces. For example, a cadre of teachers is going from B.C. to Quebec to teach English in schools there. They are bringing teachers over for one- or two-year secondments. We are trying to be creative, but the shortage of teachers is acute, no doubt.
Ms. Perkins: As in any profession, teaching included, mobility across the provinces continues to be a challenge in terms of recognizing credentials across the country, so that would also help in ensuring that we have French second- language instruction where we need it.
I noticed that jurisdictions have been looking at distance education. With the advent of teleconferencing and web conferencing, students living in rural or remote parts of Canada can participate virtually in a classroom by themselves, but through the World Wide Web, to learn their French second language wherever they may be. Distance or a shortage of teachers in one area does not have to be a barrier to students learning the other official language.
In Canada, language is seen as a zero sum game. You learn one, and the other one is at the detriment of the other. There was a tweet OCOL attributed, I think, to Mr. Fraser, who said that learning French and English is like learning to run and to ride a bike. Just because you learn to ride a bike after you learn to run does not mean you forget running or the reverse. You can do both. Sometimes one helps you get to the right place, just in a different way.
If we change the way people think concerning the myths around learning your other official language, we would have tons of interest because the benefits are there. We have a huge demand for FSL, especially for immersion across the country, and there are lineups now; we just need the spaces.
Senator Robichaud: You talked about distance education using new technologies. Do the students engaged in that distance learning do so during class time at school or on their own time at home, at their parents' insistence because it is the only way for them to learn the language?
Mr. Rothon: That is a fascinating question you ask. I doubt very much that the data you are inquiring about has been collected and analyzed. We can, nevertheless, put the question to some of our partners, including the Réseau des collègues et cégeps francophones du Canada. We can also check with some school boards.
The problem is that the Canadian school system is very decentralized. Even within a single province, practices can vary tremendously from one school board to another. It might almost be necessary to set up a research project to examine that aspect.
I can, however, share a little anecdote with you. As you may already know, we put on a public speaking competition that draws nearly 100,000 young people from across the country every year. At last year's national finals, a young man who lived in a very remote part of Newfoundland and had learned French through distance education was the winner in his category.
So it is not impossible. That is just one example. The methodology might be a little questionable, but it is still a promising sign.
Ms. Parikh: I would agree in terms of the diversity of programs and options that are available. We know that the options are vast and we know that it has not been studied.
I would like to give you two very personal examples. I have two kids; I am here as a parent. One is a gifted child in grade 10 and the other has some learning challenges. Both were streamed out of French because they cannot provide for them. For my daughter, to ensure that she continues with some French, the school board has provided a distance education program in the form of one course. It is a planning course and she does it outside the timetable. It is on personal health and that sort of thing. She will do that this year. She continues to take French at school but cannot take the full range of courses that one needs to remain and graduate with what they call in B.C. a Double Dogwood.
For my son, he had to choose between continuing in French — he was at a French-language school — and getting some help for his learning challenges. Incidentally, the only subject in which he was excelling was French. We had to stream him out of French. In order to provide him with French, we have developed, as parents, an ad hoc approach to giving him some distance education, which is not supported in any way by the school district.
It varies completely.
Senator Robichaud: You mentioned the myths surrounding the official languages. Are you seeing a change in attitude in your regions to suggest that people are getting the right information and are therefore starting to understand?
Ms. Perkins: I will speak from my own experience as a French-immersion student, largely in Calgary, in Alberta. When I was in French immersion, it was for special students, "special" being smart students only, so we were often considered very nerdy students, academically focused students.
In terms of the community in which I lived, we did not have much contact with our francophone counterparts. I remember going to a Francophonie Jeunesse meeting, and the francophone young people who were there told us that we could not be there because we were not francophone; we were francophile — okay. There were also some not-so-nice comments sometimes from the community where I lived in terms of speaking French outside of the classroom.
I am proud to say that now, if you were to come to Calgary, I know that when you go into those French-immersion classrooms, they are showing a very promising, diverse group of children learning French as a second language. There are athletes, musicians and visible minorities, maybe not as much as we would like to see, as our studies indicate, but there is a diverse population.
In Alberta, our relationship with our francophone counterparts is fantastic. I know in Red Deer, L'Association canadienne française de l'Alberta régional de Red Deer does most of the cultural programming for French immersion within Red Deer, because who knows better the culture than those who have it? You are seeing that happen a lot more, which is heart-warming from my perspective.
Again, within Alberta, speaking French, you are seeing many more initiatives, such as Bonjour Alberta. You are seeing partnerships between the francophone and francophile community in terms of showcasing that French is a language spoken across our province. It is spoken proudly and by so many people, maybe not always as well as we would like, but we are speaking it and are very proud of it.
Mr. Rothon: Nationally, we are seeing people's perceptions change as far as learning a second official language goes. I am a Montrealer, born and bred. And if I think about the attitudes I came across 50 years ago, I can say that things have improved dramatically. People are more tolerant, enthusiastic, even, when it comes to learning a second language. There is recognition that Canada is not an English-speaking country that tolerates a French-speaking minority but, instead, a country made up of two large language communities engaged in dialogue. That dialogue is not always easy — it has its ups and downs — but it is ongoing. Overall, it can be said that the situation has improved immensely. How else could you explain the fact that a quarter of Prince Edward Island's young people are enrolled in French immersion, for example?
That being said, it is important to understand that the process works a bit like a health awareness campaign. It is necessary to always repeat the same message for every generation and to make the point that bilingualism will never be anything but an asset, that it will never disadvantage you, for example. It bears repeating that learning a second language makes it easier to learn a third and a fourth language. And doing that takes a considerable amount of money, because it involves building awareness nationwide and repeating the same message regularly. For an effort like that to be successful, the support of all levels of government is necessary.
Ms. Parikh: I would just add to that by saying, from B.C.'s perspective, we have come a long way from the days when one of our premiers, Wacky Bennett, said "Over my dead body will we ever see French on cereal boxes," to the point where I would say the majority of parents believe that having their children educated in French is a right. I think most of the parents we encounter believe it is a fundamental right.
I would also say that this is, to some extent, supported by the immigrant population, who genuinely feel that this ability to speak both of Canada's official languages is actually part of the new identity that they have assumed when coming to Canada.
Senator Robichaud: You are reassuring me.
Senator Champagne: When I speak with young anglophones from western Canada, those you are here representing, there is one thing I always find fascinating. Very often, the French and English they speak is of a much higher quality than that spoken in Quebec, where the French spoken by young people is poor and the English a bit weird.
You said that teachers were lacking, that there was a shortage. I saw something interesting on American television this weekend. They were saying that, like the old phenomenon where young European girls would come to the U.S. to work as au pairs, taking care of children, it is just as common today in the U.S. to see grandmothers acting as au pairs, because grandmothers are very busy. So, rather than pretty young girls in short skirts taking care of kids, today it is 65- and 75-year-old women in good health who are coming to play the role of grandmother to children who, otherwise, would not have one.
Perhaps we could do the same thing with French teachers? They might not be as young or as pretty, but the quality of their French would be superior. That might be one advantage of overlooking a teacher's age to focus instead on what that person can teach.
Would you support a sudden shift to language teachers who were older and more mature? I would get involved and perhaps I could do the job.
Ms. Perkins: We would support it.
Senator Champagne: I will be retired in a year, so I will be looking for work.
Ms. Perkins: Absolutely. It is up to our partners and our colleagues in school districts and ministries of education to set the qualifications for teachers, and maybe we need to be looking at that. I think it is a wonderful point.
I also think it is interesting that at Canadian Parents for French we do not just look at what goes on in the classroom.
Second language learning is not limited to the classroom. It is important to have the chance to chat, outside school, to play games, to listen to music.
Having opportunities for people from our francophone community to be with us while we are learning that second official language is sometimes just as important.
Senator Champagne: Nannies for French!
Ms. Perkins: Absolutely, Canadian nannies for French. I am starting that when I go back to the office.
My son is 16, and when we come to Ottawa he says, "Mom, here in Ottawa they speak French and English, just like me." It makes me cry a little bit because I would like that to be in Red Deer. You know what, it is there, but we just have to do a bit more digging to find it; that is, opportunities where they hear French as a living language, a language of love, of eating, of doing your housework. All of that is critical. Canadian Nannies for French is a great idea. Thank you.
What a wonderful idea.
Senator Mockler: Like my colleagues, I would like to congratulate you and your team on the leadership role you play and must continue to play in official languages matters.
I was listening to you when you said that you always rise to the occasion when we are threatened. I would like to say that I saw you in action in New Brunswick in 2006 when the government of the day wanted to change immersion. We saw it also when a certain MP — without giving the name, and it is not "Wacky" — said that immersion was costly. I have his quotes here. I think you have done it very well. I encourage you to continue doing that, because I remember when it happened in New Brunswick; it was the first time in my life, and since we have had official languages since 1969, that we saw not —
— Acadians protesting and standing up for French, but you, the English-speaking community. I think that needs to continue, and I encourage you to keep it up.
Picking up on the protocol mentioned by Senator Tardif and Senator McIntyre, I think it is important to keep a very close eye on that, especially in terms of accountability.
When I was a minister in New Brunswick, you gave us ideas on how to show the merits of those investments.
At the end of the day, when you invest in education, you will reduce poverty and you will reduce many things in our little communities.
How could we help you to help those governments —
— demonstrate transparency and accountability to make sure those investments target specific areas in order to help both of our country's language communities?
My second question is this. Is the Canadian Youth for French organization your partner on that file?
And for my third question. Does social media threaten the development of our francophone and anglophone language communities?
Ms. Perkins: I will let Mr. Rothon answer the first question. I will answer the questions about Canadian Youth for French and social media.
Mr. Rothon: It is an interesting question. I wish I could take more time to think it over in order to give you as detailed and as intelligent a response as I would like. As I mentioned about a half-hour ago, the process is fairly complex.
Everything hinges on the negotiations, and the problem is that the federal government has to take a common approach as far as the proper use of that funding goes. We have often encouraged the Minister of Canadian Heritage to show leadership, to not be afraid to compel or ask the ministries of education across the country to be transparent about how they use their funds. That comes down to what the federal government's objectives are in these negotiations. What elements matter most to the federal government during these discussions with the provinces, which span a significant period of time, as you can imagine?
At CPF, we are on the ground; we are directly involved. We would welcome the knowledge of how the money was spent at the school board level. The bottom line is this. Frankly, it would almost be necessary to start there and, to some extent, work upwards. In other words, what are the principles of transparency and accountability the federal government is seeking?
If I understood your question correctly, you are also tying it in with what I would call sectors, areas of development, the idea of directing those investments to areas that are more specific than what we have now.
In that case, it may be necessary for the federal ministers responsible for workforce development, for example, to talk and to agree that these protocol agreements can indeed complement the objectives of another department. I am not sure whether the ministers have those types of discussions, but it would be a good idea.
I will stop making up my answer as I go along; these are just my first thoughts. We can come back to the subject in a few weeks' time in our brief, if you like.
Ms. Perkins: Canadian Youth for French is an organization that we know and we speak to them. We also have strong partnerships with organizations such as SEVEC, French for the Future, ACPI, CASLT. We have an FSL partner network that meets here in Ottawa through the executive directors, again to be looking at ways we all can be working together collegially and collaboratively to ensure more and more Canadian youth are given the opportunity to use French in school, but also after school, which is an interesting piece. You are seeing Canadian Youth for French and French for the Future saying, "I have done grade 12, so now what happens to me? How is being bilingual an asset in terms of choosing a university career and going to work?" It is something to be proud of.
On the matter of social media, we have a partnership with the French embassy called "Allons en France."
Students win a trip to France as the prize. This year, the competition is on social media, so it is quite interesting to watch students use their second official language in social media.
It makes the language very real and applicable, and it is a language of today. They are picking right up on that. It is something we would encourage. Again, we are talking about education. It is important to learn math, science and the humanities in French. It is equally important to learn how to tweet, post on Facebook and ask a boy out in French.
You need the whole gamut.
That is what is needed to be proficient in both official languages.
Mr. Rothon: I think it is becoming clear that —
— Canadian youth are very connected. They are connected in a way that reminds them they are plugged into the world as well.
You could argue on that basis that they are networked in a way that our generation and older generations never were. I believe that social media encourages the notion of plural-lingualism. It is a good support for it because it reminds them every day that they are not alone in the world, that they are not tucked away, even if they live in a small village.
Even in some remote corner of Gaspésie, they are still connected to the world. They have friends all over the globe and the country. And that is another language reality that is beginning to emerge on a daily basis. Personally, I really do not see social media as a threat to official languages learning, quite the opposite. I actually think it is an extremely valuable tool whose potential should be fully developed and encouraged.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Mr. Rothon, since you brought it up quite a few times, there is something I would like to tell you. During previous studies, we held hearings in Quebec to see whether anglophones there were treated as well as the francophones. No matter where we were in Quebec, we always heard the same comment: anglophones were convinced that the Quebec government was not giving them the funding earmarked for them by the federal government. We heard that comment a lot. We heard it in Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Montreal, and from a number of different groups. That is what I wanted to say.
Senator Robichaud: You mentioned partnering with other groups. Are you familiar with the Jeux de la francophonie canadienne, which invites francophiles to participate? It is a wonderful experience for young people to come together over sports and discussions of current issues.
Mr. Rothon: Commissioner Boileau of Ontario has often told a very funny story about the integration of francophiles into the francophonie games over the years. The first year that francophiles were allowed to take part in the games, unlike the other delegations, which were organized by their provincial or territorial attachment, francophiles, as a group, were not attached to a specific province or territory; their group was labelled "English People Speak French." Over the years, they were slowly integrated into the provincial and territorial teams. Everyone speaks French; they may have an accent, but they speak French.
I can tell you that a number of our provincial offices at Canadian Parents for French work closely with francophone youth associations in their respective provinces. In one or two cases, we were told that the majority of participants in some activities were now young people who had come out of immersion programs, and the results were outstanding. We cannot generalize because, of course, the situation varies greatly, but yes, especially out west, I think the francophone community is beginning to see francophiles and anglophones for whom French is a second or third language as members of the larger French-speaking family. It is quite a transformation. We are far from being right in the heart of the family, but regardless.
Senator Robichaud: It is off to a great start.
Mr. Rothon: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you.
Senator Tardif: I am always surprised that 50 years after research was carried out on the benefits of French immersion we still have to repeat the message. You indicated that very strongly, Mr. Rothon. In the 1960s, researchers like Dr. Wallace Lambert were putting forward the cognitive benefits of bilingualism, and today here we are again having to repeat the message. It is disappointing to hear that gatekeepers — people in positions of authority like school principals, councilors, trustees, and perhaps even teachers, as you have indicated — are counselling students out of French second language and immersion programs.
I have two questions. Immersion has often been referred to as an elitist program. Is that still the case today? Is that affecting interest in the program? Is that one of the reasons that special needs children are being counselled out of the programs?
To what extent do transportation costs come into play when parents are making the decision about enrolling their children in immersion programs? I am thinking of a situation in Calgary where a school board is no longer paying the transportation costs for children attending French immersion schools. The parents have to absorb that cost. To what extent do those two factors come into play?
Ms. Parikh: I do not think any of us want to leave you with the impression that the story of French language education in this country is anything but a success. It has been an incredible success and it is one that we need to celebrate. There are more children in French programs than ever before, certainly more in French immersion than ever before. We talk about being victims of our success in many ways because we just do not have enough spaces to meet the demand. We have talked before about the numbers of people on waiting lists. Therefore, while there are challenges, it is a great success overall.
Elitist? Absolutely and tragically, yes, the program is seen to be elitist for many reasons, largely because of this continued streaming of children with learning challenges out of the program, which relates directly to the lack of special needs teachers capable of teaching in French in these programs. We can all cite numerous examples of children who come to us as CPFers, parents who come to us and say, "My grade 2 son is being told to go into English because he cannot yet read." We can give them the many studies that demonstrate that children with learning challenges do equally well in French and English, or equally poorly, but at least they will emerge having learned both languages.
There is resentment among parents who have chosen to put their kids in English, for whatever reason, because they feel that their classes are filled with children who have learning challenges, and they are right; they are. We are working with a number of partners, including school boards and teachers' organizations, to address that.
In terms of transportation costs, whether that is a barrier varies from family to family and district to district. There are some interesting examples of francophone schools that provide busing offering empty spaces on their buses to children in immersion programs. Sometimes it is at a minimal cost and sometimes it is free. It very much depends on the relationship that exists in that community between the educators and the district decision makers.
I would say that it is an issue. It is definitely a barrier for some parents. I would not say it is necessarily the cost; it can also be the distance. Many parents do not want to have their kids on a bus for an hour at a time.
Mr. Rothon: To add to that, there is a school district in Canada, which will remain nameless to save its honour, that one year, because of financial pressures, essentially kicked all the French immersion students off the school bus. This was in a semi-rural area. You suddenly had children who were expected to walk along the highway at night in areas where there had been cougar sightings. Needless to say, enrolment fell by about 60 per cent the following year, and suddenly a strong program was made much more fragile than it had been in years. There are impacts, quite frankly.
In other communities, Vancouver, for example, and I think it is the same in Toronto, students go to school using the public transit system. If it is a good one, it is not an issue. It is particularly important, however, for small communities in rural areas because there you are talking about large distances.
I can think of a couple of school districts across Canada where they decided to consolidate their French immersion programs to dual-track schools, which means both the English track and the French immersion programs were offered in the same school. They created single-track schools, which had many advantages, but students who only had a 10- minute transit time suddenly had an hour and half in order to get to the district's single-track school. Again, that has an impact on enrolment.
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Official Languages Committee, I want to sincerely thank you for being here and for sharing your input.
I am always amazed at the work that Canadian Parents for French does. On Sunday, I attended a French music festival in Manitoba put on by Canadian Parents for French's Manitoba chapter. There were finalists who had chosen French songs by Cœur de Pirate, as well as blues and jazz songs; they had translated some English songs into French. It was extraordinary and very special, and I would like to congratulate you once again. And I know the committee members join me in thanking you for your contribution to Canada's francophonie, helping make it what it is today. Best of luck in your future endeavours. Thank you.
Honourable senators, we will now suspend the sitting for a few minutes.
(The committee continued in camera.)