We are pleased to present, in collaboration with Canadian Parents for French (CPF), this extraordinary issue on the benefits of French immersion education for all learners. The commissioned papers that follow were originally presented at a CPF symposium in Ottawa in April 2006; in order to make this information available to a wider audience of researchers and other interested stakeholders, CPF agreed to sponsor a special issue of CMLR in which these literature reviews could be published in both English and French. However, since editorial policy stipulates that all articles be peer-reviewed, each paper was first sent to three evaluators for blind review. Based on reviewer feedback, the authors revised their manuscripts. Now, along with CPF, CMLR is pleased to publish these comprehensive articles in both official languages. We hope that you will find them informative.
We have asked Michael O'Keefe from the Privy Council Office, who originally commissioned these papers in conjunction with CPF, to [End Page 599] introduce them articles to you and to explain the motivation behind this endeavour.
Since its inception in 1965, French immersion (FI) education in Canada has been supported by an unlikely collaboration between researchers and stakeholders. The supply of and demand for French immersion programs are influenced by a wide array of decision makers, whether formally - by policy makers such as provincial education ministers and their officials, school boards and their administrators - or informally, by the expectations of teachers, parents, and the students themselves. In an environment where so many people have a say in whether and when FI is offered and the circumstances under which parents and students will choose FI, research becomes a common basis for decision making.
An evidence-based approach has many obvious advantages, but it is far from simple to bridge the worlds of academic research, education bureaucracies, and the everyday realities of parents and classrooms. Many surveys have shown that Canadians want their children to learn their second [End Page 600] official language, yet only a small fraction of high school graduates take advantage of the opportunity to learn French and become bilingual.
In December 2005, my colleagues and I at the Privy Council Office sat down with Canadian Parents for French to discuss the role research could play in supporting FI education. We immediately identified as a priority the need for credible summaries of the state of learning and knowledge on FI education. Three themes quickly emerged.
The first theme pertains to the linguistic, academic, and cognitive benefits of FI. This is by no means a new subject: the issues involved are recurrent and have been the subject of decades of research. They are also the most basic questions that anyone interested in encouraging the learning of a second language must be able to answer, and the first questions that parents will naturally ask. How well will my children learn French? What impact will it have on their English language skills? Can children learn difficult subjects effectively in a second language?
The second theme examines the requirements of students who are "at risk." This category includes students with low levels of academic ability, reading impairment, and low levels of intelligence (as measured by [End Page 601] standardized IQ tests), as well as students who have been identified by school personnel as having academic difficulty. Many reports suggest that these students are expected to have difficulty in FI and, for this reason, are often discouraged from enrolling. The issue of counselling students away from FI could potentially affect the Canadian government's ability to attain its Official Language Action Plan objectives for bilingualism. We were particularly interested in knowing what would be the consequences of not directing these students away from FI. Are there successful strategies for providing special education support for these students? What, if any, are the policy implications of these strategies?
Third and finally, we wanted to examine the suitability of FI for allophone students. Given Canada's low birth rate, we know that most of the growth in Canada's population in the coming years will be from immigration; it is therefore important that FI programs attract young Canadians from...