French is progressing in English schools, says the English Montreal School Board (CSEM)

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) threw a wrench into the water last week by accusing Quebec’s Minister of the French Language of being “dishonest” about the teaching of French in English schools. In an interview, the president of the largest English-speaking public school board in Quebec does not budge, but also extends his hand to the government.

“The minister did not do his research,” Joe Ortona, president of the EMSB, proclaimed last Wednesday in writing. “ […] Students from our school board who take the high school final exam in French obtain better results than students from the French sector who take the same exam. Shame on him! »

He took exception to a comment in English from Minister Jean-François Roberge, which had gone relatively unnoticed on this side of the language barrier. The latter, former Minister of Education, and since 2022 responsible for the French Language, had suggested a little earlier that “changes must be made” so that students leaving English schools express themselves more in French.

The president of the largest English-speaking school board in Quebec maintains the same tone in person as on paper. “Hostile” is this government which “speaks out of both sides of its mouth”, he assumes in front of THE Duty.

Three out of four students leave the walls of the CSEM “perfectly” bilingual, argues Joe Ortona. Two thirds of them spend their first years of primary school in French only. The other third becomes bilingual thanks to “50-50” French-English classes.

“At the secondary level, there are a lot more French people than there were 10-15-20 years ago,” he adds. There was a lot of emphasis on primary school, because the younger you learn it, the easier it is to master. And that was lost in secondary school. »

The English Montreal School Board began offering francization courses for newcomers in 2022. It was almost a surprise for Mr. Ortona, who criticizes the government for never giving them the resources they ask for, or almost. “They tried to abolish the school board. They don’t even recognize our right to exist! »

Figures to interpret

This public release coincided this week with the publication of the first statistics comparing the total number of students eligible for English-language schools to those who avail themselves of this right. Thus, for all of Quebec, 76% of the 230,075 students eligible for English school had studied in English. In Montreal, Statistics Canada speaks of 82% of the 82,885 “rights holders” children who had attended an English-language school.

This statistic has been maintained for several years, estimates Joe Ortona, who has spent almost a decade at the head of the CSEM. Himself from this English-speaking network, he emphasizes that the potential pool of students decreases from year to year.

About 39,000 students were studying in English at CSEM at the turn of the millennium, compared to about 19,000 now, he said. Empty places are filled thanks to professional training, and French still remains one of the best arguments to convince parents to send their children to its schools. “Being bilingual is winning” remains the CSEM’s slogan, insists its president. “If we don’t retain our customers, we lose students. This means that we are losing money to spend on educational services. »

Law 96 and CEGEP

Law 96 – which reinforces Law 101 – has caused several gnashing of teeth since its adoption. The CSEM is contesting it from several angles under the pretext that it would force its employees to communicate in French, even internally. If the interview takes place only in French with Joe Ortona, he allows himself to speak in English on this point. ” It’s for score of the cheap political points.»

“There are students, even French speakers, who have difficulty mastering French because they have learning problems. If it is their mother tongue and they have difficulty, for an English speaker or an allophone, they will have even more difficulty. We still have to recognize it. We must find ways to help these people and not to complicate their lives. »

Through these criticisms, he keeps his hand outstretched. “We didn’t leave [le Québec] neither for Ontario nor elsewhere. We want to stay here. We understand that French is important. We are partners in the promotion of the French language. »

Minister Roberge’s office declined our invitation to react.

This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

To watch on video

source site-42