Critics pan Tories’ French education funding boost


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TORY ministers touted new funding for French education at a mid-day news conference Tuesday — an event political opponents are calling a smoke screen for scathing criticism about second-language resources in a provincial report that was released hours after the event.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (409 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TORY ministers touted new funding for French education at a mid-day news conference Tuesday — an event political opponents are calling a smoke screen for scathing criticism about second-language resources in a provincial report that was released hours after the event.

Shortly after noon, Advanced Education Minister Jon Reyes and Rochelle Squires, minister responsible for francophone affairs, announced the Manitoba government would be earmarking additional funds for education programs at the University of Saint-Boniface.

The duo, alongside university president Sophie Bouffard, indicated the province will start picking up a $350,000 annual tab — a sum that has been covered by temporary federal grants since 2017— to ensure USB can continue to graduate as many as 70 French teachers every year.

“(Its) bachelor of education program is the only program in Manitoba designed entirely to prepare students to teach in the public school system’s français and French Immersion programs,” Reyes told reporters, during a bilingual news conference.

“Having additional teachers to provide these services is key to the vitality of Manitoba’s francophone community and francophile community.”

Over the last five years, USB has increased its annual intake of education students to 62 (from 37), owing to an annual funding partnership with Ottawa that expires at the end of March.

Last spring, the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents surveyed all divisions that offer French programs to pinpoint the exact number of French-language educators needed in classrooms across the province. The survey found approximately 149 more educators who are proficient in French education must be added to the system to meet demand.

Teacher retirements and spikes in both enrolment in the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine and interest in French immersion is driving the demand, said Barb Isaak, executive director of MASS.

Between September 2010 and 2020, the number of students in the DSFM rose by 19 per cent. Immersion enrolment has been on a steep incline, with numbers spiking 47 per cent in the last decade, in comparison to two per cent growth across English programs.

Manitoba’s 2020-21 report on French language services, which was published Tuesday, suggests the province’s second-language offerings — especially amid the pandemic — are not meeting the needs of a growing French-speaking population.

“Across all public bodies, COVID-19 highlighted gaps in the delivery of services in French, and demonstrated ongoing challenges based on the lack of awareness regarding Manitoba’s obligations to the francophone community,” states an excerpt in the report from the Francophone Affairs Secretariat.

The 25-page document includes a detailed section on complaints submitted to the secretariat, which rose threefold between 2019-20 and 2020-21, to 86 from 29 — a nearly 197 per cent increase. Almost 50 per cent of all complaints were directly related to the pandemic.

Complainants raised pandemic-related issues about delays in publishing French language surveys and uploading translated information to websites, a lack of French services at vaccination centres, and an absence of bilingual telephone services, among other items.

The report notes contracted vendors often did not fully consider the need for bilingualism and improved planning might have occurred “if the requirement to provide bilingual services and information had been recognized at the highest levels (of government).”

COVID-19 concerns aside, members of the public raised alarms about an inability to register a newborn for a Manitoba health card in French, cancer screening documents only being available in English, and the closure of designated rural bilingual government centres, among other items.

The Manitoba Liberals were quick to put out a release Tuesday, accusing the Stefanson government of using the USB funding announcement to distract from the report.

Dougald Lamont, MLA for St. Boniface, said the latest funding does not make up for the “serious damage” the Progressive Conservatives have done to French services in Manitoba.

“This PC government has always treated minority rights as if they are a luxury that the people fighting for them do not deserve,” Lamont said in a release.

The NDP critic for francophone affairs echoed similar sentiments in a statement Tuesday, noting the latest monies “just barely” cover a recent cut to USB’s operating funding.

Adrien Sala added: “Manitobans deserve a government that prioritizes French language education, instead of cutting it.”

Meantime, USB administrators were all smiles at the news conference earlier in the day.

“We receive more interest and candidates for the (education) program than we are able to accept at the moment, so there’s great potential for growth,” Bouffard said, noting the new funding will maintain the current program.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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