More English instruction for French schools in Quebec

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by Lucy Scholey on March 3, 2011

Though most elementary school students in this region won’t be honing their English skills under a new intensive program, other changes in the education system will be rolled out in the Gatineau Hills.

Premier Jean Charest pinned education as a top priority during his Feb. 23 address to the National Assembly that launched a new legislative session.

His proposals included: Smartboards in every classroom; laptops for every teacher;

more formality in the classroom (addressing teachers with “vous,” the more respectful French word for “you”); a code of conduct; funding for sports gear.

As well, French school students in Grade 6 will spend half the school year studying an intensive English program.

It’s still unsure how these proposals will be implemented, but French schools can expect to start cracking more English textbooks over the next five years.

Does the new course bother the principal of the only French school in Chelsea? Pas du tout.

Ecole du Grand Boise Principal Normand Pauze said the school already has an English program, albeit not as intensive as the one Charest proposed, with a one-and-a-half-hour English class every week. Students in the Grade 5 and 6 classes are divided into two classes each, according to their English levels.

“It permits anglophones to go further,” Pauze said.

The school has 400 students, about 30 per cent of them anglophone.

Discussing formalities, Pauze said the school has a code of conduct but students often address teachers by their first names and do not use “vous.” But the proposed formality does not bother him. He said it’s more about unifying students across the province.

On the other hand, Jocelyn Blondin, the president of the Portages-de-l’Outaouais school board (CSPO), was not thrilled with last week’s news.

“There isn’t a big need,” he said, of the intensive English program. Though all of the 21 elementary schools are French, they’re located in a fairly anglophone community, where students can easily learn English.

About 17 per cent of the Outaouais population was anglophone in 2006, according to an Outaouais Health and Social Services Network (OHSSN) report. That number grew nine per cent from 1996.

Aside from the English-speaking program, Blondin said he’s pleased with the other proposed changes.

Wakefield Elementary School currently has five Smartboards, but principal Rolla McIntosh said any additional interactive technology will facilitate classroom learning. The Smartboard is like a combined computer and whiteboard that allows students and teachers to surf the Internet and write in digital ink. The sports funding is an added bonus, too.

“They’re realizing, as a minority, our funding is going down,” she said.

Gatineau MNA Stephanie Vallee said the government will announce more details about  education changes in the upcoming year.