The perils of sending your English kid to French school

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by Nikki Mantell on March 10, 2010

Long resigned to the fact that we are treated as unwanted second class citizens in our own province, anglo Quebeckers may be shocked to find out that we, ourselves, may be counted as one of our own worst enemies.

Anyone who has watched how Bill 101 has decimated English schools will not be shocked to find out that our enrollment, 40 years later, continues to downward spiral.

For those who need reminding, Bill 101 dictates that all students who do not have a parent schooled in English in Canada are forced into the French public education system.

For a while parents, including French families who wanted their kids to get an education in English, used a loophole that let students into the English system after paying out of pocket for one year of English private school.  Then, in 2002 Bill 104 slammed that door closed, angering parents of both languages.

Despite the fact that this October the Supreme Court ruled that Bill 104 was unconstitutional, the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (an advisory body to the Quebec government) last week told Charest’s Liberals that the government should go even further to choke parents’ rights and impose Bill 101 restrictions on the private school system.

Add to that the Parti-Quebecois’ proposal to widen the same noose to include CEGEP students, and it’s crystal clear why the English school system has seen its numbers plummet.

But this is all part of Bill 101′s broader plan. From 1971 to 2001 the province’s language laws helped along the exodus of nearly 200,000 anglo Quebecers; the population dropping from 13.8 per cent in 1971 to 8.1 per cent in 2001.

Those cold hard facts are nothing new. What is surprising English school boards is a self-imposed exodus of its anglo students.

According to a report last week in the Montreal Gazette, the English Montreal School Board has launched an aggressive recruiting campaign – in French.

Why the hell would the already cash-strapped English board advertise to a linguistic group who cannot legally enroll?

The board, reports the Montreal daily, is on the offence to combat a lack of confidence in their schools’ second language instruction.

In a painful twist of irony, the English school board has to spend money, on French advertising, to combat one of the main symptoms of being chronically underfunded because of its ever-declining numbers in enrollment.  English parents are sending their kids to French schools because they don’t believe the French classes are good enough.

Provisional figures from the education department show in 2007-08, that 13,774 pupils eligible for admission to English schools were enrolled in French ones instead.

For example, in Chelsea, those parents (and there are many) who choose to send their kids to Grand Boise instead of Chelsea Elementary are hurting the English school system because government doles out funding according to enrollment numbers. Less funding, less to spend on instruction. It’s a vicious cycle.

Or another way of looking at it, 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.

One has to marvel at the ingenuity of Bill 101… and wonder if its crafters knew that 40 years later we’d be doing the work for them.

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