SFU’s Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs (OFFA) has a new reason to celebrate it’s 10 year anniversary this fall. The federal government has announced that, through Heritage Canada, Official Languages, it will contribute $2 million a year to OFFA for the next five years.
The funding will go to French programs in both the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Education.
SFU is the only BC member of the Association of Universities of the Canadian Francophonie. In addition to organising complementary programs, such as the “printemps de la francophonie,” it has also created links with the community directly, and works with the government at the provincial and federal levels.
“Our mandate is to maintain the new programs we have created,” Claire Trépanier, director of OFFA, told The Peak.
Trépanier spoke about the development of SFU’s French program, saying, “The French Cohort Program dates back from 2004. We had our first graduates in 2008. Programs change a lot, and our directive from the federal government is to maintain those programs, which is already significant. We had $8.3 million in total for the past five years. Our goal with the increased amount is to make sure we respond to the need.”
That need includes the growing demand for French immersion teachers in the province’s public school system, as well as post-secondary educational needs of BC’s francophone and francophile communities.
“In June last year, we consulted with SFU directors, but also teachers, students and the community to understand the teachers’ needs,” said Trépanier. “We also met with the provincial government, which also is very aware of the growing needs of French language teaching but also of teaching in French.”
Trépanier is optimistic about the future of the French language in BC. With 70,000 francophones, 300,000 French speakers, and a large demand for immersion classes — 50,000 students as of today — interest in French is growing.
“What is really extraordinary,” Trépanier stated, “is that those children often come from families where they already speak several languages. So I view the situation of French in BC positively, while keeping in mind the fact that there is always work to be done.”
This “work to be done” is further exacerbated by increased francophone immigration to Canada, more and more of whom are settling in minority French communities outside of Quebec. Trépanier believes that “the more we offer this education in French from kindergarten to university, the more people will want to immigrate here, to be integrated in an education system in French.”
One such system, offered mainly in French, is SFU’s French Cohort Program, which allows students to pursue studies in the French language and political science simultaneously. For John Craig, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, this program is one of SFU’s “gems.” The program is “both intellectually worthwhile and politically worthwhile,” he stated.
Craig noted that “without the official federal policy of bilingualism, you would find that local circumstances start dictating local policies. [As such, we would likely see] the rise of Mandarin or Punjabi here in the Lower Mainland.”
Nevertheless, because the federal government is a bilingual operation, Craig feels “it’s very important that people access what they need to access in both official languages.”
As funding is determined by a plan of action with specific initiatives, OFFA’s priority is to maintain existing classes in the departments of political science, history and French, as well as continue to offer the professional development program, the masters and PhD programs, and programs for in-service teachers.
OFFA’s future projects include a partnership with the School of Criminology and the development of ILEAP, a program to improve elementary school teachers’ French. Trépanier hopes these programs will help to “celebrate the fact that [SFU’s] multilingual students choose to pursue post-secondary education in French in BC.”