Applying Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology to the Problem Situation: The Problem Situation Defined
At the French school where I used to work, the mandate of the school and school board is to provide French language education and to encourage students to feel a sense of belonging to the Franco-Ontarian community. However, the vast majority of the students did not actually speak French amongst themselves. The situation is one of irony: An ethno-linguistic community struggles for about a century to acquire the minority language rights guaranteed by the constitution. Once the rights are fully acquired, most students no longer speak French naturally and teachers need to actively enforce the rule that French is the language of communication within the school. Similar situations exist in many schools across Canada in minority francophone communities. The situation is therefore not isolated. Historical and sociolinguistic factors can explain the situation, which varies from one region to another and from one school to another. For example, in small rural communities, particularly in Northern Ontario and Eastern Ontario, students tend to speak French amongst themselves at school just as community members tend to speak French amongst themselves. In urban areas where the majority of community members are English-speaking, students tend to speak more English amongst themselves and need to be cajoled to speak French.
In 1912, the province of Ontario limited access to French language education by prohibiting instruction in French for over one hour a day for children beyond grade two. This law, Règlement 17, was enforced for fifteen years despite a French Canadian resistance involving teaching secretly in French. The law was only formally removed from the statutes in 1944. In 1968, French language secondary instruction became available thanks to law 141. Public school boards were thus permitted, though not required, to offer instruction in French. Regional struggles occurred. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to minority language education in Canadian provinces:
Section 23, article 1 states the following:
Citizens of Canada
a) whose first language learned and still understood is that of the English of French linguistic minority population of the province in which they reside, or
b) who have received their primary school instruction in Canada in English or French and reside in a province where the language in which they received that instruction is the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province, have the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in that language in that province.
The Franco-Ontarian community acquired the right to autonomously manage their own school boards in 1997; in January 1998, eight Catholic and four public French language boards came to existence.
Franco-Ontarians are dispersed throughout the province. Some of those whose families have experienced the prohibition of French language instruction in primary or secondary school carry this in their collective memory. Schools attempt to teach this history and to emphasise the importance of being grateful for the right to receive French language instruction. In addition to this history, sociolinguistic factors involving proximity and interaction with the English-speaking majority of Ontario have influenced the use of French amongst Franco-Ontarians, particularly amongst young people. Community leaders and teachers are particularly distraught to see assimilation rates increase and students struggle in their mother tongue, which might become the ancestral language for many.