Learn more, not less, French

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by admin on March 31, 2010

By Sean Butler and Nathalie Stringer

The Low Down editorial on the “perils” of enrolling anglophones in the French school system (March 10 edition) struck, in our opinion, an overly divisive note, and moreover drew conclusions that would weaken, rather than strengthen, the vitality of Quebec’s anglophone population.

Yes, English schools are suffering declining enrolment, but so are French schools. The main reason is not a declining anglophone population (it grew at a greater rate than the francophone population, according to the last census), but a declining birth rate. There are simply fewer kids to educate. This reality is far from the Bill 101-induced “downward spiral” of English schools as portrayed by the Low Down.

There is no doubt that Bill 104 harms English schools, reducing enrolment by an estimated four per cent. But a far greater loss – approximately 11 per cent – is illustrated by some 14,000 English-school eligible students having chosen French schools.

Recoveing this clientele is the reason English school boards have launched their “Go publique!” campaign, concluding that the main factor deterring students is a perceived inadequacy in French instruction. This is more than just image manufacturing. In the past year, both the Western Quebec School Board and the two English Montreal school boards have decided to increase their French programs.

It’s easy to understand why anglophone parents are concerned about their children’s French fluency. Without this vital skill they will face limited job and social prospects in Quebec, resulting in many cases a move out of province. It is unfair to ask parents to put aside this concern and instead choose their child’s school based on political loyalty to a particular cultural group. Parents simply want the best future possible for their children, and most realize that French fluency is a non-negotiable.

Canadian Parents for French-Quebec supports anglophone parents sending their children to schools they believe will best produce fully bilingual graduates. Sometimes this may mean an English school, sometimes a French one – it’s up to parents to decide and for the respective school systems to win their confidence.

Should anglophone parents choose a French school, it will not affect their grandchildren’s English-school eligibility, as was claimed in a letter to the Low Down last week. As the rules governing English-school eligibility clearly state: “Children who are declared eligible for instruction in English . . . may pursue their studies in French and still transfer their right to receive instruction in English to their children.” Parents who send their children to a French school should still apply for the English eligibility certificate, so they don’t restrict their grandchildren’s options.

The Low Down editorial states that, “the more anglophone parents try to encourage learning the French language and respecting the culture, the more it costs their own minority culture in the end.” We believe the exact opposite: the more confident anglophone Quebeckers become with French, the more anglophone communities will thrive, as young people stay to take their place as biliterate citizens of the province, fully engaged in its professional, political and cultural life.

Sean Butler is a CPF-Q staff member and Nathalie Stringer serves on its board.