Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics

    A Profile of Minority-Language Students and Schools in Canada: Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2009

    2. Minority-language students and schools in context

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    Data from PISA on minority-language students aged 15 years old in 2009 and on the minority-language schools they attended must be understood within the broader context of minority and majority-language populations in Canada. This section provides a brief overview of the context within which the PISA respondents and their schools function.

    Minority-language school systems in Canada are a reflection of the unique demographic make-up of this country. In every province and territory in Canada, English and French language populations co-exist, but with varying population densities for the minority-language groups. The ability to participate in one's linguistic culture will fluctuate according to the availability of individuals and activities who share that linguistic culture. Population density has an impact on the availability of these individuals and activities. Furthermore, as stipulated in section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, minority-language schooling will be made available "where numbers warrant". Thus, population densities will also determine the availability of minority-language schooling.

    Population densities for the minority-language communities vary considerably across the provinces as seen from the accompanying map. So for example, the English minority population in Quebec is more highly concentrated in large urban centres, most notably Montreal and the Quebec side of the National Capital Region. In contrast, the French minority-language community in Ontario shows high levels of density through the mid-north-east portion of the province, an area with smaller population centres.

    The Survey on the Vitality of Official Language Minorities, 2006 (SVOLM)1 demonstrated that the relative proportion of the French language minority group within a population was closely associated with both the use of the minority language and the sense of identification with the minority-language group (Table 1.1). For example,

    "outside Quebec, 39% of French-speaking adults live in communities where they represent less than 10% of the population. Generally in those communities, only 25% reported French as their main language compared to 59% who reported being more at ease in English than in French and 16% being equally at ease in both (official) languages."2

    Map 1 Canada Percentage of francophones by 2006 Census Divisions (CDs)

    Table 1.1 Main language used in daily activities by French-speaking adults by the proportion that they represented in their municipality of residence, Canada less Quebec, 2006

    On the other hand, in Quebec, the SVOLM data show that:

    "nearly two-thirds of English speaking adults report that they use English preponderantly in their daily activities, that proportion rises to 85% when those using English and French equally are included… Even when they comprise only 10% to 30% of the population within their municipality of residence, 60% of English-speaking adults use English preponderantly in their daily activities."3

    The language patterns of minority-language adults, described above, is mirrored in the use of the English and French languages by their children. SVOLM data show that French minority-language children were using the English language to a greater extent with friends, on the internet and when reading than the French language in 2006 (Table 1.2).

    Table 1.2 Language used by minority language children in various situations, Canada 2006

    Minority-language schools also function in the broader school environment. Between the 2000/2001 and 2008/2009 academic years, total enrolments in elementary and secondary education in Canada declined by about 4.5%. During this period, enrolments in core language programs4 declined by almost 7.0%. On the other hand enrolments in immersion programs5 jumped by more than 14.0% (Table 2.1).

    Table 2.1 Enrolments by Type of Minority and Second Language Programs, (public schools, elementary-secondary level), Canada 2000/2001 to 2008/2009

    Enrolments in minority-language schools also declined by about 4.4% between 2000/2001 and 2008/2009; however this varied considerably by province. New Brunswick minority-language enrolments declined by 18.9% and Quebec minority enrolments by 6.4% over the period, while Alberta and British Columbia saw large relative increases at 40.3% and 52.3% respectively (Table 2.2).

    Table 2.2 Enrolments in Minority Language Programs (public schools, elementary-secondary level), Canada and selected provinces, 2000/2001 to 2008/2009

    Data from the Survey on the Vitality of Official Language Minorities also indicated that not all parents who are entitled to have their children attend a minority-language education system do so. About 26.2% of French language minority parents who had not sent their children to a minority-language school indicated that the proximity (or distance to the school) was an issue and 18.9% indicated that no minority school was available (Table 3).

    Table 3 Reasons why parents did not (or could not) send their children to a minority language school


    1. Statistics Canada, 2006.
    2. Corbeil, Jean-Pierre, Grenier, Claude, Lafrenière, Sylvie. Minorities Speak Up: Results of the Survey on the Vitality of Official-Language Minorities, 2006. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 91-548-X. Ottawa. 2007.
    3. IBID
    4. Where the second official language is offered only as a subject of study similar to math or science.
    5. Where all subjects are taught in the student's second official language.
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