04/01/2015 02:44 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT

French immersion wait lists continue to grow in B.C.

More parents than ever seem to want to enroll their children in French immersion schools, but many students in B.C. are being turned away due to a lack of space, resources and qualified teachers.

Surrey, one of the largest school districts in B.C., has 3,357 French immersion spots from kindergarten to Grade 12. This year, more than 500 students were in the running for only 280 seats.

"Every year, there are parents that are disappointed that they don't have an opportunity to put their children into the early French immersion program," Surrey School Board chair Shawn Wilson told B.C. Almanac's Gloria Macarenko.

"It's very disappointing, but there are valid reasons why it's a difficult thing to do — the demand is just that much greater than the supply."

Wilson said the district's schools are bursting at the seams, with thousands of current students being taught in portables. Without space, it's very difficult to house choice programs, he said.

Glyn Lewis, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon branch of Canadian Parents for French, says many parents prefer French immersion because they believe the experience would open doors for their children.

Demand high throughout province

Every school district tracks registration and wait lists differently, but Lewis said there were roughly 20 communities in B.C. last year where demand for French immersion exceeded supply. Some parents resorted to camping outside of schools as they lined up for registration.

"When you hear that there are 20 communities in the province where families are being turned away, that's the kind of thing we need to work on with local decision makers and the province to say, what can we do to make sure we're creating the space that we need?" said Lewis.

One of the other reasons demand is exceeding supply is the lack of qualified French teachers, he said.

The Education Ministry said in a written statement that it tries to encourage more British Columbians to become French teachers by offering a $5,000 official languages study fellowship.

"In addition, the Ministry offers bursaries of up to $1,500 to assist B.C. teachers to improve the quality of their French teaching," the statement said.

To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: Wait lists for B.C. French immersion programs continue to grow