Extending language law to CEGEPs damaging: students

(CUP) 8212; Forbidding graduates of Quebec’s French-language schools from attending English-language CEGEPs would only prevent students who already speak French from learning English, says the students’ union at Dawson College.

Last weekend, the Parti Québécois called for Bill 101, the law that regulates language in the province, to be extended to CEGEPs 8212; the two-year colleges that Quebecer residents who graduate high school in grade 11 must attend before university.

Currently, students and their siblings are allowed to attend primary or secondary school in the English system if they moved from somewhere else in Canada and had been primarily educated in English before moving, or if their parents had been primarily educated in English in Canada.

But according to Michaël Lessard, treasurer of Dawson’s students’ union and a graduate of the French-language school system, preventing students like him from attending English CEGEPs would only prevent students from the French school system from improving their English.

The calls by Quebec’s largest opposition party come after the release of a study in mid-January that explored the reasons why an increasing number of francophone and allophones 8212; those whose first-language is neither French nor English 8212; on Montreal Island are attending English-language CEGEPs.

The study, commissioned by the union that represents the majority of teachers in the province, found that most students who attended English-language CEGEPs after graduating from French high schools believe it will lead to better jobs.

According to the Institute for Research on the French Language in the Americas, the group that conducted the study, francophones and allophones make up 49 per cent of the students at English-language CEGEPs.

For many francophone students, attending an English-language CEGEP is an opportunity to improve their language skills.

“I wanted to improve my English,” said Caroline-Ariane Bernier, a law student at McGill University who attended a French-language high school but an English-language CEGEP. “I wanted to work in international law and I knew that speaking English would be very useful.”

According to Bernier, who attended an elite public high school, around half her class attended English CEGEPs “because English is the international language.”

Lessard has a similar story. “The main reason I went to Dawson was to learn English.”

According to him, English is necessary to work in “anything that touches politics or law or business or academics,” especially when those fields involve interacting with people from outside Quebec.

“That’s why I don’t understand the arguments, even from the nationalist point of view, you want Quebec to be able to talk with the rest of Canada or America.”

Lessard said that studying in English also gives bilingual students the ability to choose a university based on its programs rather than language.

But for some students who come from the French system, it’s not about learning a new language, it’s about studying in a language they know better.

“I was just more comfortable speaking English,” said Nina Li, currently a McGill student. “I spoke English at home and with friends.”

Li, who described being allowed to study in English as “freeing,” said she wasn’t thinking about future employment when she decided to go to an English CEGEP, just about getting into an English university.

According to the IRFA study, 40 per cent of allophone students go to English-language CEGEPs and the majority say they’re more fluent in English

According to the PQ, this is part of the reason why Bill 101 should be extended, in order to better help immigrants integrate into francophone society

“An important number of the new members of the new communities are going to the CEGEPS in English, and after that they are integrating to the English communities,” party leader Pauline Marois told the CBC.

For Li, it’s also about choice. “At that age, you’re 17 or 18, you’re becoming an adult, you should definitely be able to choose.”

At least for the moment, the extension of Bill 101 isn’t on the table. Christine St-Pierre, the minister responsible for the Charter of the French Language, has described the calls to expand the law to CEGEPs as “radical.”


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