English teaching in primary education | A program ripe for review by the Ministry

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Department of Education is evaluating students’ command of English, a second language, in Quebec. Among other unavoidable questions: teaching English from the 1std year, starting in 2006, has it paid off?

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Louise Leduc

Louise Leduc
The press

Last week, The press revealed Quebec City’s desire to develop a program enriched with English in 6and year.

But what about the vast majority of students (83% of primary school children) who take the basic English curriculum instead?

What impact did the implementation of English in 1d year, dating from 2006? In response to our inquiry, the Ministry of Education sent us a 2019 study that did not focus on this, but on a different path – which, moreover, was considered much more promising by researchers – namely that of intensive English in 5and and in 6and year.

And while they may only be part of the answer, the results compared to previous generations, compared to the Ministry’s high school exams of the first cohorts who started English at age 6, show no clear improvement.

Questionable exams

Up to 5and secondary, students do not have a ministry exam in English as a second language. In June 2006, the average (for children who had only learned English out of the 4and year at that time) was 81.3%. That of the 2017 cohort – the first to have done English in 1d year – was 82.4%.

Success rates? In 2006, as in 2017, pass rates for the Ministry’s exams are “very, very high because the requirements are low. If you manage to chat, you get a pass,” said Christine Baida, president of the Society for the Development of English Teaching, a Second Language in Quebec (SPEAQ) and an education consultant who is now retired. .

English is not even the bad relationship of education, it is the homeless.

Christine Baida, President of the Society for the Improvement of the Teaching of English as Second Language in Quebec

In secondary school, the number of minutes per week is still quite high, but in primary school it varies from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on what the schools choose.

“The Sprinkling” [d’heures d’anglais]the research says it doesn’t work,” said Josée Scalabrini, president of the Federation of Educational Unions, which represents 65,000 teachers (all subjects combined).

The few surveys and press archives show that the decision to impose English from the 1d year in 2006 due to strong parental pressure.

In 2015, researchers Moktar Lamari and Eva Anstett wrote: “It cannot be said that teaching English as a second language at the undergraduate level [du primaire] as implemented in Quebec primary schools, responds to scientific evidence clearly set forth in the literature. On the other hand, it is clear that there is a demand for such early learning within the population and among parents, which this measure seems to want to respond to. †1

“The sponge child” has its limits

In an interview, Philippa Bell, professor of second language education at UQAM, points out that it is wrong to think that we should rush to teach English to toddlers when their brains are “a sponge” according to the established expression.

In a school context “it is more towards the end of primary education and the beginning of secondary” that the learner is cognitively especially ready to learn another language, even if early exposure nevertheless has the merit of taking a moment at which the child, emotionally, is more receptive to it and has no negative a priori.


PHOTOGRAPH PHILIPPE BOIVIN, THE PRESS

Guillaume Bouthillier and Geneviève Gyger with their sons, Alexandre and Antoine

This is what Guillaume Bouthillier himself observed. Her two boys, now 13 and 14 years old, have been going to an English camp in Nominingue since they were 6 and 7. Mr Bouthillier noted two separate releases. “Their first camp immediately made them lose the fear that on an ice rink, in the winter, the Anglophones will take one side and the French speakers the other. †

But it wasn’t until the end of primary school, he continues, that he noticed that his sons could talk.

His boys are lucky, he notes, that family finances allow them to attend a camp that takes them beyond school.

“I personally thought it was a good idea to immerse myself in English for a year after CEGEP to improve my English,” says Mr. Bouthillier.

An “ambitious” program, on paper

On paper, the English-language program is “ambitious”, wrote the Higher Education Council (a body independent of the government) in 2014. “The levels aimed for here for primary education are in line with what is generally expected in Europe for the end of secondary education. . †2

The content is there, “the expectations of the population are high”, but “the time spent is not sufficient and is not optimally distributed”, adds the Higher Education Council.

Added to this are the shortages, which are especially dire in special education and English as a second language, said Nicolas Prévost, president of the Quebec Federation of Educational Establishment Directors.

At Laval University, only 50 of the 80 places available for students who want to teach English are filled. At UQAM we have been able to fill the 50 available places in recent years. Concordia University receives 200 applications but welcomes up to 60 students.

How many schools will offer the intensive English programs advocated by researchers and requested by parents? Should or can we continue to teach English from year 1?d years or should we focus this teaching on the age at which cognitive research says it is ideal?

Any government decisions will be influenced by the scarcity of teachers and inevitably by the political context.

“However, in Quebec, teaching English as a second language strikes a chord because it resonates with a certain ambivalence, the Supreme Council of Education noted in 2014. […], everyone wants to effectively teach English to their children. At the same time, as citizens of a state where the linguistic majority is fragile, many fear that learning English will come at the expense of French and send allophones an ambiguous message about the priority of French as a common language. †

1. Teaching English as a Second Language: What to Remember from the Quebec Experience?February 2015, Center for Research and Expertise in Evaluation, National School of Public Administration

2. Improving the teaching of English as a second language in primary school: striking a balanceHigh Council of Education, 2014

More information user manual

  • 338
    Number of tolerances for English as a second language commitment in 2020-2021 awarded to individuals who are not legally qualified (due to lack of qualified teachers)

    Source: Quebec Ministry of Education

  • “The state has its share of responsibility regarding children’s bilingualism. […] Under the compulsory universal school network, the state should allow everyone to acquire functional knowledge of English […] using the most proven methods. †

    Source: Commission of the States General on the situation and future of the French language in Quebec, 2001, p. 54-55

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