Anglo students say they feel unwelcome
Heritage College students worry that Bill 96 will make it harder for them to graduate and get into the universities of their choice.
Bill 96, which Quebec’s National Assembly adopted on May 24, limits the number of English CEGEP enrollments. It also requires English-speaking college students to take three extra courses in French and, for those who don't hold English language rights, a French proficiency exam to graduate.
On May 26, Heritage College students Naureen Ahmed and Gabrielle Lalonde met with the Low Down to explain their frustrations.
“Right now, for people who don’t know French at all, their options are: learn French in a short period of time; go to Ontario where education costs more; or drop out,” said second-year student Lalonde. “It’s going to hurt Quebec's English post-secondary education system.”
Ahmed agreed with Lalonde’s observations and said that, without access to English education, she would not have found academic success. Ahmed, who is one of 1,500 students at Heritage College, explained that her grades increased “drastically” once she enrolled in an English CEGEP.
“I had an 80 [per cent] average when I attended a French high school,” she said. Now that she studies in English, the incoming finance student at McGill University “scores over 95 per cent in most of [her] courses.”
Ahmed also reflected on how the bill might impact first-generation Canadian students, also referred to as non-historic anglophones in Quebec. Under Bill 96, non-historic anglophones - residents or their parents who didn’t attend English school in Canada – will be required to attend French school in Quebec.
“When I think about immigrant kids, they’ll be forced to go to a French school and I think, because of this, kids will drop out or not go to college or not stay in Quebec,” she said. As a first-generation Canadian herself, Ahmed said no one in her family speaks French so, “coming to an English school was a big relief — it lifted a lot of weight off of my shoulders.”
Gwendolyn Guth, an English teacher at the college said, “there’s trepidation about what the future holds for students and teachers.”
Guth, who is also the vice president of the teachers union, said that the school held a letter-writing “blitz” to urge the National Assembly to vote against Bill 96. During this campaign, students wrote to the Minister of Language Simon Jolin-Barrette, urging him to reconsider the new language laws. But, according to the teacher, the letters made no impact on the government’s decision to make college studies more difficult for anglophones.
She predicted that, if students cannot access English education in Quebec, some will seek post-secondary education in Ontario.
“But then, there’s a whole swath of students who will be underserved because they aren’t going to be able to afford [the cost of school in Ontario] — it’s heartbreaking,” said Guth.
During a conversation with Heritage College director-general Gordon McIvor, he posed the question: “Do we want people to [study] in English here, where it’s tuition-free. Or, are we going to make them go over the bridge [into Ottawa] and pay out-of-province tuition fees?” Also, McIvor said he was not sure how students will fit five French courses into their schedules on top of their normal workload.
Because of restrictive language laws – laws that now require employees working in businesses with over 25 workers to speak French – both Lalonde and Ahmed said they don’t see themselves living in Quebec long-term.
“I was planning on working in Montreal [after university] because they have a lot of nice job opportunities,” said Ahmed. “But now, with all of these laws, I don’t think it’s going to be a very welcoming place for me.”