Enrolment in B.C. French immersion programs dropped for the first time in 20 years in the 2020-21 school year, and according to the Canadian Parents for French B.C. & Yukon, it was partly because of fewer online resources in French during the pandemic.
Numbers from the province show 53,503 French immersion students in 2020-21, down 913 students or 1.7 per cent from the 2019-20 school year.
That compares to total public school enrolment in B.C. during the same period which declined by 1.3 per cent, from 575,986 students to 568,271.
A drop in non-resident enrolment accounted for a big portion of the decline, with only 8,380 non-resident students enrolling in B.C. schools in 2020-21, down almost 50 per cent from 16,079 in the 2019-20 school year.
Glyn Lewis, executive director of Canadian Parents for French B.C. & Yukon, said the switch to online learning wasn't easy for immersion students because the availability of online French courses was "grossly insufficient."
"The pandemic actually exposed and showed there was a great inequality in our education system between online English courses and online French courses," he said.
Lewis said the situation made some parents move their children out of French immersion into better supported programs.
His organization is calling on the province to ensure French second language courses are readily available and supported when a new online learning program is launched in 2022-23.
"The ministry really needs to consider the breadth of French immersion courses so all students can participate," said Lewis.
"Over 53,500 B.C. students are participating in French immersion, or roughly 9.4 per cent of the student body. This is a popular and life-changing educational experience within our public education system, and no child should be left out."