Francophone Education in B.C.: Rising to the Evolving Challenges

January 27, 2023

How does “investing in people, prioritizing education” translate into the Francophone context in Canada and how can we support teachers to rise to the challenge of ensuring inclusive, equitable education and lifelong opportunities for French-language communities? We sat down with Gino LeBlanc, Director of the SFU Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs to explore these themes on the occasion of the International Day of Education.

Q: The theme of this year’s International Day of Education is “invest in people, prioritize education.” What does it mean in the context of French-language education?

A: For Francophones in Canada, education has been that leverage that has helped them protect and promote their identity, and, historically, has contributed to their social-economic mobility. Without education, there would be far fewer French speakers today. “Investing in people, prioritising education” means investing in their identity, and language is a key element of this.

Q: What is your vision of inclusive, equitable Francophone education that creates lifelong opportunities for all?

A: Ours is a fairly young system, in B.C., [for example], French-language education governed by the Francophone community has been recognized since the mid- 1990s. Equity is keeping the language alive, keeping it vibrant, so you can pass it on to your children. In this sense, early childhood education is just as important as the school years [and beyond]. Our vision is for a true lifelong education continuum for Francophone communities.

Q: What do you see as the current challenges?

A: I think there are three main challenges. First, we are a province with high immigration and a very diverse French-speaking population, and so the fabric of the Francophone community is changing and mirroring this diversity. So we have to ask ourselves: do our schools reflect this diversity? The second challenge is the scarcity of pedagogical tools, methodologies and training adapted for B.C. Because the French educational community here is so much smaller, there are fewer available resources adapted to our reality. And the third challenge relates to what the 2020 Supreme Court of Canada judged as “non-equivalent infrastructure” for French schools. Learning and teaching needs to happen within adequate schools, classrooms and student support, offering the same opportunities as those for the majority.

Q: How has the Faculty of Education helped meet these evolving needs?

A: We have become a key partner in helping create a strong continuum of French education in British Columbia, bringing together Francophone educators and strengthening communities of practice. A lot of work at the Faculty is focussed on ways to better reflect the current diversity of the Francophone community and it’s changing needs. We have literally brought our faculty’s classroom to the Francophone community by delivering a community module of our PDP program. Moreover, our Faculty members conduct important research on plurilingualism in the classroom and the need to include Indigenous perspectives in French-language schools.

Q: What do you see as the role of OFFA in supporting Francophone education?

A: Our key mandate is to coordinate and support French courses, French programs and French-language students at SFU. We help students increase the value-add of their language by creating opportunities that allow them to reflect on their identity and language skills and by offering them on-campus and off-campus exposure to French language and culture.