Mr. Chair, I would like to thank you for the invitation to appear before your committee this morning. It is a privilege for us, as representatives of the Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française, to be able to share our viewpoint with the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
The Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF) has been around for 65 years now and has contributed to developing French-language education to maintain the vitality of francophone communities in Canada. The ACELF is a leader in bringing together stakeholders by encouraging dialogue and reflection on current issues in education, primarily through an annual convention and through the publication of a scientific journal called Éducation et francophonie. In addition, we are sensitive to the needs of education networks, and we are aware of the dual mandate of francophone schools in minority situations. We provide them with training activities and educational materials that are always on the cutting edge in areas involving francophone identity and the sense of belonging to a contemporary and inclusive francophonie.
If you take a look at our association, you will see a Canada-wide network of members from all walks of life. We bring together stakeholders from all sectors in education, from early childhood to post-secondary education. These stakeholders work in educational institutions, for school boards, for associations, and with teacher and parent groups.
To develop its guidelines, the ACELF also relies on a board of governors, which includes stakeholders elected from four Canadian regions—Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, and western Canada and the territories—and representatives from the 13 ministries of education of our Canadian provinces and territories. Those two features are unique to us in the world of French-language education; we have members across Canada, including Quebec, and representatives from each of the 13 ministries of education.
In terms of funding from the federal government, our association receives substantial financial support from the Department of Canadian Heritage. And we are very grateful for that. First, this financial support enables us to organize a nationwide annual convention that brings together Canada's major players in French-language education. It is actually the largest multi-network meeting in Canada's francophone education community.
This funding also enables us to offer continuing education to early childhood professional staff and to the staff of French-language schools in minority settings. Since implementing the internship program 25 years ago, 1,609 stakeholders have been able to benefit from it.
In addition, this funding allows us to publish a journal specialized in French-language education.
Furthermore, the funding helps us support young francophones aged 11 to 14 to participate in an exchange with young people from another francophone community in Canada. In over 25 years, almost 5,380 students have benefited from this cultural and educational experience.
Lastly, this money allows us to develop educational materials for francophone schools, helping to build the francophone identity of young people and their sense of belonging.
In terms of funding from the roadmap, the ACELF has not benefited from it directly. Actually, the grants we receive do not come directly from the roadmap budget. But, since almost 75% of our funding comes from programs under Canadian Heritage, we think we have some ideas on future priorities that may be of interest to you.
As for a new federal official languages support strategy, the ACELF wishes to affirm its support for the community strategic plan developed under the leadership of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. The ACELF is a signatory to this leaders' forum and supports its implementation.
But today, we would like to talk about what we know best, which is French-language education. So we would like to take this opportunity to tell you about some of the major issues that need to be considered in order to better support the education sector. I would also like to mention that these issues were formally identified by our network.
The four issues that I am going to present to you already receive attention from our association, given that our three-year action plan for 2011-2014 includes many initiatives along those lines.
The first issue has to do with developing early childhood resources and expanding family services. This challenge pertains not only to education, but also to the entire community and the organizations that provide services to the francophone population. Early childhood clientele must be at the heart of priorities in order to secure the long-term future of francophone communities. The recent study done by researcher Rodrigue Landry provides evidence to that end. The study “Petite enfance et autonomie culturelle” shows beyond any doubt that early childhood is the foundation for the vitality of a minority language. To achieve this, it is important to take action early on to develop a child's francophone identity. As a result, the actions taken by parents, institutions, the community and governments have to build on each other to advance towards the same goal. Appropriate resources and infrastructure must also be accessible.
With its partners from the Table nationale en développement de la petite enfance francophone, the ACELF is already committed to making early childhood and family services a priority for action. In addition to the continued training offered annually to early childhood professional staff, the ACELF and its partners have developed a number of educational tools and have a host of other initiatives in mind for the coming years, including an interactive Internet site for exogamous families to help them develop their children's francophone identity.
The second issue is to expand professional development that deals with the specific nature of teaching in minority settings. Teaching in French in a minority setting requires teachers to have specific skills. As we know, young people who live in francophone minority communities evolve in a physical, social, artistic and even virtual environment that is predominantly anglophone. So these young people don't have enough opportunities to live in French. As a result, teachers must come up with special strategies to overcome this challenge.
Not only does the need for specific skills hold true for teaching school subjects, but it is even more true for developing the francophone identity of these young people, since, may I remind you, French-language schools in minority settings have a dual mandate. In addition to academic learning, schools must support identity building by encouraging young people to have a strong sense of belonging to their language and their francophone culture. In terms of this identity-building mandate, the initial training offered to teachers is still not sufficient. To improve this aspect of teacher training, some faculties of education have some very promising initiatives, but we must also think about continuing education for the approximately 13,500 teachers and 1,000 principals who work in our schools. It is important for them to have opportunities to hone their skills.
Organizations like ours produce specialized educational materials for teaching in a minority setting. Although all the players in the education community recognize the quality of those materials, we don't have the tools we need to make all those resources known and to provide training.
Furthermore, several nationwide training initiatives are being implemented. I have in mind two projects sponsored by the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC). First, the cultural approach to teaching will allow teachers to help young people discover important and meaningful aspects of the collective francophone culture, whatever the subject studied may be. There is also the online training project that was developed by the Fédération canadienne des enseignantes et des enseignants. And there is the Trousse du passeur culturel, for which training is still required.
Those are just a few examples, but they clearly show that the movement to develop the skills of staff working in a minority setting is well under way. At the same time, they show that it is crucial to invest the funds needed to ensure that training for using those resources is available, depending on the various service delivery methods.
The third issue involves developing cross-cultural skills among stakeholders and young people. Canada has always been a land of immigrants and, over the past few years, this phenomenon of enrichment has been growing. The arrival of this diversity has significantly marked most francophone communities and many of our schools. In order to foster an inclusive environment, it is important to develop cross-cultural skills among young people and stakeholders in school networks.
By cross-cultural skills, we mean developing attitudes and skills that encourage the in-depth knowledge of one's culture and the culture of others, with a view to build a pluralistic and renewed collective francophone culture.
The fourth issue has to do with promoting the personal development of young people so that they become more involved in the Canadian francophonie. As a result of a wide range of activities, many young people are already working towards developing their francophone community. In order to encourage all young people to become more involved, it is important to give them the opportunity to have various personal experiences that will help them to become more familiar with the various facets of our contemporary francophonie; understand the issues that affect the future of our francophonie; be able to have personal opinions on the issue and make decisions consistent with their opinions; get involved based on their interests and talents; and take action that will contribute to the well-being of other members in the community.