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BILINGUAL EDUCATION PROGRAMMES IN CANADA

Overview

    Canada is a relatively young nation, founded in 1867 with a population of approx. 25 million citizens.

    It has a federal government with: 10 provincial legislatures, 2 territorial legislatures and 1 national parliament located in Ottawa.

    Political power is highly decentralised.

    There were three founding groups: Native peoples (including Inuit and Indians), the French, and the English. Groups differ greatly in population size, geographical distribution, and social and economic power.

    Canadians of British and French origin form the largest ethnic groups in Canada;

    40 % British and French 27%. French and British Canadians are unequally distributed across the country.

    There are approximately 78 different indigenous cultural groups in Canada. In recognition of the characteristics of Canadian society as being an 'ethnic mosaic', the federal government has adopted official policies towards bilingualism and multiculturalism. According to the Official Languages Act, passed in 1969 English and French, official languages of Canada for all purposes of the Parliament and Government of Canada, have equality of status and equal rights and privileges in all the governmental institutions of Canada.

    In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) public education will be available in all provinces in both official languages, where numbers warrant.

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Language attitudes

    English lack of responsiveness to their concerns led French-speaking Quebecois to make public demands for change. The early 1960’s saw political, social, and, some, militant action. This social unrest was called the Quiet Revolution.

    The French community in Quebec was also dissatisfied with inequities in the language situation: some English-speaking Canadians began to become more concerned about English - French relations. There was an emerging awareness in the English community, following the Quiet Revolution, that French was becoming an important language of communication in most spheres of life in Quebec and English alone would no longer assure social and economic success in the province.

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The St. Lambert Experiment

    With the growing importance of French as the main working language of Quebec and increasing dissatisfaction with the linguistic barriers between English and French Canadians, a concerned group of English-speaking parents in St Lambert, outside Montreal, began to meet informally in the early 1960’s to discuss the situation (Lambert & Tucker, 1972).

    After meeting for 2 years, they succeeded in getting the school district to set up an experimental kindergarten immersion class in September 1965.

Aims of the St Lambert Experiment

    The children should:

  • become competent in speaking, reading and writing French;
  • reach normal achievement levels throughout the curriculum including the English language;
  • appreciate the traditions and culture of French speaking Canadians as well as English speaking Canadians.

    In short, the aims were for children to become bilingual and bicultural without loss of achievement.

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Definition of Immersion

    Immersion education has bilingualism as an intended outcome, and therefore represents a 'strong' use of the term bilingual education.

    Submersion, Withdrawal Classes and Transitional approaches would count as a ‘weak’ use of the term bilingual education because such schemes educate bilingual children, without having bilingualism, as defined in content, aim and structure, as a specific desired outcome.

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Types of Immersion Bilingual education

    Immersion education is an umbrella term. Canadian immersion programmes differ in terms of the following:

  • age at which a child commences the experience. This may be at the kindergarten or infant stage (early immersion, which is the most popular route); at nine to ten years old (delayed or middle immersion), or at secondary level (late immersion);
  • amount of time spent in immersion. Total immersion usually commences with 100 % immersion in the second language, after two or three years reducing to 80% per week for the following three or four years, finishing junior schooling with approximately 50% immersion in French per week. Partial immersion provides close to 50% immersion in the second language throughout infant and junior schooling.

    Rapid spread of immersion bilingual education since 1965 (Rebuffot, 1993). Currently there are around 300,000 English speaking Canadian children in approx. 2000 French immersion schools, i.e. 6% of the total school population in Canada.

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