Francophone Education


A FrancoZone with English hotspots
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All parents who want to participate in their children’s education are well intentioned—but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all well informed! For instance, those who insist that it’s their right to speak English everywhere in the francophone school, and to have others address them in English (and to receive all written communications in English), haven’t yet grasped this fundamental characteristic of their children’s education:

Minority French-language schools exist so that parents who qualify as francophone rights holders under the Canadian Charter can have their children educated in French as a mother tongue.

We’re talking about an official-language institution whose mandate includes teaching the provincial or territorial curriculum in French, passing on francophone culture, helping students develop a francophone identity, and providing institutional support to the francophone community.

In short, the school is one big FrancoZone, or a space where French must be the dominant language.

That being said, most kids in the system today have a francophone and a non-francophone parent. There are also a few students from households where French is no longer, or never was, a family language. This reality creates challenges in schools throughout Canada.

A matter of respect

Those challenges arise from the need to respect the school’s raison d’être while finding ways to help non-French-speaking parents get involved.

It’s important to remember this major difference between francophone education and French immersion programs: French is the main language of the francophone system rather than a second language spoken mainly in the classroom.

The francophone educational experience thus involves the use of French in all spheres of activity, including within the administration, among teachers, at parent council meetings, during social events, and so on. Knowing that the adults involved in their schooling use and value French makes the language more important for kids.

Why was the parent council included in that list, considering that students don’t attend the meetings except in some high schools? Since many francophone parents are bilingual, why doesn’t the parent council operate entirely in English? Or at least 100 percent bilingually?

This is something one hears from time to time, and on the surface it may seem to make sense. But does it respect the integrity of the francophone education system? No. Does it show an understanding of why francophone schools exist? No. Does it convey a positive message about French to children? On the contrary, it tells them that French is fine in the classroom, but English is the only language that adults need.

The slippery slope

If we start chipping away at the French foundation because it’s easier for some parents to communicate in English, eventually English will replace French within the school—making it resemble a French immersion program. (That’s something governments do not want to see when it comes to education funding.)

Think about the effect this would have on the kids: they’d see French being limited to the classroom—as an academic language rather than a living one—which would in turn diminish its importance. Since English is the world’s “cool” language, it already has considerable status. Knowing that it’s used often in the school system would only reinforce that perception at the expense of French.

How, then, can non-French-speaking parents be made to feel comfortable in a predominantly French-speaking system? There are many ways: in conversations among parents or with school staff; at school plays where an English translation is projected onto a screen; during parent council meetings when someone provides a brief English summary—as opposed to a complete repetition—of information that has been presented in French; at school events when the principal welcomes parents in English; during meet-the-staff sessions when teachers tell parents in English what their children will be learning this year; in many volunteer activities; and so on.

When parents know that they are welcome and valued within a system that they understand and respect, many ways can be found to help them get involved.

A FrancoZone with English hotspots

One day when I was discussing this situation with a parent, he came up with a brilliant image: “The ideal situation would be a school that’s one big FrancoZone with English hotspots!”

He was absolutely right: apply the FrancoZone concept to an educational setting, and you’ll see that the school is one of the most important FrancoZones you and other parents can help create for your kids.

Anyone can contribute to this FrancoZone by speaking as much French as possible in the school. Even if it’s simply “Bonjour” and “Au revoir”, every effort helps reinforce the importance of French in students’ eyes.

Remember that not all teachers are comfortable speaking English in all situations. They deserve as much encouragement in their second language as parents. It’s all about respect—which is at the heart of the FrancoZone approach.

A community built on understanding and respect provides a healthier environment for children than one where well-intentioned but mistaken logic is allowed to erode its very foundations.