Winnipeg’s biggest school division may offer IB program to retain French-immersion students

By | December 8, 2019

Winnipeg’s largest school division will consider adding an International Baccalaureate program in French to keep students from leaving their studies in French immersion. 

Officials with the Winnipeg School Division say they will study the feasibility of offering the enriched university entrance-focused program, in light of division numbers that show the number of students in French immersion begins to drop as they approach high school.

One theory is that students are signing up for an IB or advanced-placement program instead, which are only offered in English. In kindergarten to Grade 12 French immersion programs, the majority of instruction is done in French.

“We know that the numbers are dropping. We just want to take a little bit deeper [look] into ‘why does that happen?'” said WSD trustee Jamie Dumont, who adds there are likely a number of reasons behind the drop-off in French immersion enrolment.

Numbers showing the decline were previously shared with trustees at a closed-door meeting. CBC asked for those numbers, but the division did not reproduce the statistics on Friday.

Despite the drop in numbers as students approach high school, overall enrolment in French immersion in the division has increased significantly in the past decade.

The number of French immersion students went from 3,353 in 2008-09 to 4,717 in September 2018, the division says. The Winnipeg School Division has more than 33,000 students in total, according to its latest annual report.

Recruit, retain more teachers

Dumont’s motion, which passed unanimously at the school board’s Dec. 2 board meeting, asks for a five-year analysis of enrolment levels, including students who transition to IB and advanced-placement programs instead. The feasibility of each program in French will be evaluated as well.

“If it’s something that through our analysis, we can see that would encourage our students to continue their high school education in French … I think that would be a benefit,” Dumont said.

Peter Dorrington, who sits on WSD’s French immersion district advisory council, told the board meeting that some parents feel the division focuses on enticing parents to enrol their kids, but not enough attention is paid afterwards.

The division is also being asked to address ways to recruit and retain French immersion teachers.

The motion suggests Winnipeg School Division consider a new program for prospective French immersion teachers modelled on the Build from Within program.

That program certifies Indigenous high school students with teaching aspirations to become educational assistants, in an effort to get more Indigenous teachers into classrooms. 

Dumont’s motion will be referred to the division’s policy and program committee for further study.