By Janet Steffenhagen, January 6, 2010
Approximately 55,000 people in British Columbia claim French as their mother tongue. The more common languages in this province are English (2.9 million), Chinese (343,000), Punjabi (159,000) and German (87,000). There are almost as many British Columbians who speak Tagalog (50,425) as speak French.
Demographics alone then should put a stake through the heart of a proposal by the B.C. College of Teachers to make fluency in French a prerequisite for all new elementary and middle-school teachers.
The problem this proposal attempts to address is that some teachers find themselves in the untenable situation of trying to teach a language for which they have no facility, no training and no passion. That's not a happy circumstance for either teacher or student.
But requiring all teachers to have language skills at a high enough level to teach French is unrealistic and unnecessary. In Ontario. where about six per cent of the population has French as a mother tongue (compared with 1.3 per cent in B.C.), teachers designated to teach French have special qualifications. Given that only a fifth of 800 B.C. elementary and middle-school teachers surveyed in 2007 were comfortable speaking or reading French, the quality of instruction could improve if B.C. followed Ontario's example and left teaching of French to those who can.
The college argues that this solution forces these designated teachers to move from classroom to classroom, deprives them of a relationship with their homeroom class and may deny them a place to display their French teaching materials. A Grade 5 student could come up with better excuses. Most schools have teachers who specialize in art, music, computers or science and students often move to specific classrooms set up for those courses. How difficult would it be to have a French room?
Surely, the pedagogical hierarchy can come up with more creative ideas to deal with what is essentially a scheduling problem.
The suggestion that teachers be able to demonstrate fluency in French before being granted a licence to teach seems based on a misunderstanding of Canada as a bilingual country. Canada is officially bilingual in that English and French have special status over other languages in government and the courts and that public services are available in both official languages were numbers warrant. It has nothing to do with everyone speaking both English and French. Indeed, most Canadians do not.
Those Canadians who want their children to develop fluency in French send them to French immersion schools, for which there is growing demand in B.C. and across Canada. In those schools, students learn to speak, read and think in French, taught by teachers who are driven by their love of the language and a mission to share it with others.
Unless the college is looking for a new barrier to entry to the teaching profession, it should look to more practical approaches to improving the quality of French language instruction in regular English-stream schools. Canadian bilingualism will gain nothing by having French taught by the unwilling to the inattentive.
Source: Vancouver Sun