By Johanne Adam
French-language elementary and high schools in Ontario face chronic recruitment problems. For several years, they have had trouble finding, and keeping, sufficient numbers of qualified teachers.
Many of those who are prominent in the field of French-language education in Ontario have turned to the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education for help, since this faculty is the largest provider of new Francophone teachers in the province.
“We have ideas, but it will take a great deal of collaboration,” said Dean Richard Barwell of the Faculty of Education. “Education is like an ecosystem: to find solutions, we need to canvass the entire community.”
Consequently, Dean Barwell invited the primary stakeholders to discuss the problem and determine the best way forward.
“We need to raise awareness of the constraints we face as a teaching establishment, and see whether some of these obstacles can be removed,” said Barwell.
The summit on the teacher shortage in Ontario’s French-language schools took place at Alex Trebek Alumni Hall on May 16, 2019.
All school boards were represented, as were the Centre franco-ontarien de ressources pédagogiques [a Franco-Ontarian educational resources agency], the Ontario College of Teachers, Laurentian University, l’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens [the professional association representing elementary and secondary teachers in Franco-Ontarian schools], the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
How is this shortage affecting education?
School boards often have no choice but to hire unqualified teachers, given Ministry approval.
“Sometimes, they really have no one,” said Richard Barwell.
What is causing this teacher shortage?
In addition to facing an increased number of retirements, these schools are experiencing major demographic shifts.
The Francophone population in southern Ontario is increasing. For the past eight years, the area’s Francophone schools have seen their student population increase by some 2000 students per year.
“We see migration from northern to southern Ontario: people are leaving Sudbury to settle in Windsor, for example.”
In addition, immigration from Francophone countries is on the rise in Ontario. More and more students are of Haitian, North African or Sub-Saharan African origin. Hence, school boards are not only dealing with increased enrolment, but also facing the challenges of teaching in a minority environment and an increasingly diverse student population.
The number of teachers leaving the profession has increased, due to the heavy workload.
Only two universities in Ontario offer programs for those who wish to teach in French: the University of Ottawa and Laurentian University
What solutions are being considered?
One potential solution is the elimination of enrolment limits for teacher education programs.
“We intend to request this of the Ministry, but we must be able to meet our obligations. For example, we need to ensure we have enough practicum placements,” said Dean Barwell.
“We also need to consider innovative solutions, such as setting up placements in more remote areas.”
Current placements are unpaid, and implementing paid placements would require changes to the Ministry’s regulations.
“For the past 50 years, training teachers for French-language schools in Ontario has been a large part of the Faculty of Education’s raison d'être. We are very proud of our achievements, but we realize that a problem exists and we intend to help improve the situation.”