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New UVic program to train much-needed French immersion teachers

The 16-month, post-degree professional program, which runs to December 2024, will qualify students to teach French immersion or at francophone schools
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Project manager Madeleine Challies says the shortage of teachers who can instruct in French is widespread. VIA MADELEINE CHALLIES

A new program starting at the University of Victoria in ­September aims to help fill a critical need for teachers who can instruct in French on Vancouver Island and across the country.

The 16-month, post-degree professional program, which runs to December 2024, will qualify students to teach French immersion or at francophone schools such as École Victor-Brodeur in Esquimalt.

Ten students are lined up for the pilot project, while students in other education programs at the university will also be involved in some of the training, said project manager Madeleine Challies. All the courses will be in French.

The post-degree program, which leads to a bachelor of education degree and a teaching certificate, is a first at UVic for French-language teachers. A 2021 study done by the ­Canadian ­Association for ­Immersion Professionals and the Canadian Association for Second Language Teachers concluded that 10,000 French teachers were needed to address the national shortage. Exact numbers can be hard to come by, but in 2020, B.C. was estimated to be short about 200 teachers.

Sean Powell, the district principal for languages in the Greater Victoria School District, said there are openings for French teachers in the district at the beginning of every school year. “We have been filling the positions but it’s always a challenge every year for French immersion positions,” Powell said.

Challies, who taught French immersion for 15 years in the Greater Victoria district and served for three years as the ­district’s French-language ­co-ordinator, said there are ­constantly openings around the province.

The Greater Victoria, Sooke, Saanich and Gulf Islands school districts were consulted in the program creation, along with Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique — B.C.’s French-language school district.

Other universities in B.C. and Canada have also been in on discussions, Challies said.

“We need this in more institutions because the shortage is widespread,” she said. “We want the program to reflect current academic theories and approaches, but also the realities of what it looks like in a French-immersion classroom today.”

The program will receive almost $1.3 million over two years through Heritage Canada as part of the Federal Official Languages in Education Protocol.

B.C. received federal funding of $2.2 million in 2020 for French-teacher recruitment, with the province putting in $300,000.

Students in the program have to demonstrate competency in French and have completed an undergraduate degree, which can be in other disciplines, Challies said. She said UVic will look to partner with a francophone university, probably in Canada, “to offer language institutes or a cultural and language opportunity for the students.”

Some will still be working on their language skills as they ­progress through their courses, Challies said. “Many of them will need a bit of support to continue with their language learning.”

Any second language can be a huge asset for students in terms of things like job-preparedness or travel, Challies said.

“More and more people realize that being bilingual or multilingual is just a gift.”

In the Greater Victoria district, the number of students studying in French has been as high as 20 per cent in recent years, compared to about 10 per cent B.C.-wide.

Challies said there are nine Greater Victoria district ­elementary schools that have French immersion, along with five middle schools and four­ ­secondary schools.

Jason Howe, executive director of the B.C. & Yukon Branch of Canadian Parents for French, said the UVic initiative is a ­positive step.

The challenge is not only recruiting French teachers but also keeping them, he said, noting that there are also efforts going on to recruit teachers internationally from countries like France and Belgium.

Howe said his organization is paying particular attention to the issue of keeping French teachers, who sometimes feel isolated in their communities or are faced with a lack of resources and ­support systems.

UVic is also launching a new French-language resource collection within its library. The collection has been developed with input from about 90 French-language educators across B.C. and will include digital and print items, children’s books, novels and more.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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