A growing demand for French immersion schools in Metro Vancouver, but for what reasons?

Parents hoping to enroll their children in French immersion in the Lower Mainland are finding themselves on a waiting list.

There is such high demand for French immersion that there are simply not enough spaces.

It’s getting so frustrating that advocates are asking the government to legislate better access.

Demand for French as a second language instruction has been climbing in B.C. for 14 straight years, and school districts have been expanding their programs.

The most recent government numbers put about 45,000 French immersion students in B.C. in 2011, up from just over 31,000 in 2002.

Heavy demand for a specialty program is straining resources in some school districts.

“A good example is parents in Salmon Arm who camped out for three nights last year to get their kids registered in an early French Immersion program,” says Glyn Lewis with Canadian Parents for French. “Same thing in Nanaimo. Right now parents are lobbying in Chilliwack, Gibsons and Penticton. There is a phenomenal demand for these programs.”

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A French language parents group is hoping the province will accommodate the need by adding more spaces, French language teachers and more help for children with learning disabilities.

But there’s concern that French immersion is popular for other reasons – a perception that it’s the private school education in the public system without the price.

“We certainly hear these various theories about why parents choose the program. Some obviously have a strong passion for the language. We certainly hear suggestions that there may be other reasons, perhaps trying to avoid some of the complex classroom challenges that we might see in other places,” says Patti Bacchus with the Vancouver School Board. “The concept of a private school within a school has been raised. I don’t think we have seen any evidence of that.”

The ministry of education is taking time to review the Canadian Parents for French report before responding.