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English schools need support for French programs

May 16th,2024 | Opinion

This week, we dedicated two full pages to the efforts of anglo kids and their parents who are trying their best to embrace French and become bilingual. 

But it’s clear there is a problem with French-as-a-second-language education in the Hills.

Stories like the ones we highlighted on pages 12 and 13 show how wide the education gap is between English and French students, especially in this region, where there is no option for French immersion at the junior high and high school levels. Those who don’t make it into Hadley’s Enriched French program – with its French-language course built for francophone students – are at a major disadvantage when it comes to living and thriving in Quebec, where French has been designated the only official language. 

And it’s not for a lack of trying. Because of Bill 96 – the province’s overhaul of the Charter of the French Language – more and more anglophone parents are prepping their kids for what they will have to face in CEGEP: Three college-level courses in French. More parents are putting their kids into French tutoring, French sports programs and anything else they can to increase their kids level of French. 

But it is a problem that there is no middle ground for junior high and high school students in this region for a more accommodating French immersion program.

Hadley’s Enriched French is intended for those who can read and comprehend French at a Grade 7 level. That means that the expectation is that your English student graduating from elementary schools in Kaz, Wakefield or Chelsea should be able to understand and read at the same level as an equivalent francophone student, whose native tongue is French.

But this isn’t what’s happening. Because there is a major gap between elementary school and Hadley’s Enriched program, the kids who are pushing themselves into the tougher program face a real struggle that is intense and requires extra support. The parents the Low Down spoke with attested to doing up to three hours of homework a night. They said their kids were stressed out and consistently worried about maintaining their 70 per cent average to stay in the program. And then there’s the fact that there may not be enough spots for students who want to attend due to a lack of teachers – there is currently only room for 20 per cent of the school’s population to take the Enriched French program. 

Those who don’t get into the program are moved into Hadley’s Core French program, which offers only one hour of French instruction every week. It’s vastly different from French Enriched program. (French streaming also creates a tiered system at Hadley-Philemon Wright, as happens with many French immersion programs, but that’s another issue.) 

Quebec just announced a whopping $603 million to protect the French language in Quebec, with $64.9 million dedicated to “improving students’ mastery of French.” There’s another major gap. If the province wants students to learn French, the full $603 million should be put toward recruiting and paying Francophone teachers, overhauling Quebec’s elementary system and ensuring there are multiple immersion options at every step of the way. 

Because it’s not as if parents aren’t trying. According to the province’s language watchdogs, the Office québécois de la langue française, the proportion of anglophone students attending French school rose over the last 20 years, increasing from 18.4 per cent in 2000 to 31.9 per cent in 2021. 

We’re doing our part. We want to learn French. Shouldn’t we be encouraged? How about a little carrot with those sticks, Legault?

Does the CAQ just want the anglos to pack up and leave? Sometimes it seems that way. 

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At the Low Down, we are passionate about delivering quality local news to Gatineau Hills residents. But passion alone cannot pay the bills.

To help meet the demands of inflation and the costs of producing fact-based local news, we have introduced new pricing options. Our goal is to meet readers where they’re at, and keep our newspaper as affordable as possible.

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