What motivates Franco-Ontarians to study in French?

Posted on Friday, August 22, 2014

When they turn 16 or 17, Ontario students need to start answering a number of questions as they prepare for postsecondary studies. University or college? Which institution? Which program? On top of that, Franco-Ontarians have to choose whether or not to continue their studies in French—a difficult decision for some.

A major new study on the transition to postsecondary education led by André Samson from the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa reveals that the cultural identity of young Francophones appears to be a significant factor in their decision to pursue postsecondary studies in French. The study shows that the extent to which a student uses French at home, at school and among friends is a determining factor in the decision to choose a French-language program.

Professor Samson explains: “The more young people speak French, the more they consider themselves Francophones and the more attached they are to the French language, making it more likely they will pursue their postsecondary education in French.”

Although proximity and availability of programs in French are also major factors, they are not as decisive as the student's identity as a Francophone. In fact, the study, which focused on Francophone students from Ottawa and from Northern, Eastern and Southern Ontario, demonstrates that the desire to continue studying in French is stronger in youth from Eastern Ontario than it is in those from Ottawa, despite Ottawa students' proximity to the University of Ottawa and La Cité collégiale.

Surprisingly, this difference is the result of Eastern Ontario students' more frequent use of French. That said, students from Eastern Ontario who intend to pursue their studies in English are more likely than their Ottawa counterparts to lament the lack of options for programs in French, even though the selection is the same for both groups.

“Forty-five percent of youth from Eastern Ontario decided to pursue their studies in English because their program wasn't available in French, compared to only 22% in Ottawa, 16% in Northern Ontario and 18% in Southern Ontario,” says Samson. Finally, the study demonstrates that Franco-Ontarians who pursue their postsecondary education in French have a much stronger sense of wellbeing than those who opt to study in English.

Samson recognizes the efforts made to strengthen students' Francophone identity at the secondary level, but he thinks the focus should also be on postsecondary students. “What's important now is to meet the needs of young Francophones at the postsecondary level across the province, including in Ottawa.”

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