Teaching English in Primary | A mature program for the Ministry’s review

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Ministère de l’Éducation is in the process of assessing the proficiency of English, a second language, of Quebec students. Among other unavoidable issues: the teaching of English from 1stD year, since 2006, has it borne fruit?

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Louise Leduc

Louise Leduc
The press

Last week, The press revealed Quebec ‘s desire to develop a program enriched with English at 6i course.

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

What impact did the implementation of English have on 1?D year, which dates back to 2006? In response to our question, the Ministry of Education sent us in 2019 a study that did not focus on this, but on another route – also considered much more promising by researchers – that is, the of Intensive English in 5i and in 6i course.

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

Questionable exams

Up to 5i students do not have an English as a Second Language exam in the Ministry. In June 2006, the average (for children who had only learned English from the age of 4)i year at that time) had been 81.3%. The 2017 cohort: the first to do English in 1D year – was 82.4%.

Success rates? In 2006, as in 2017, the pass rates for Ministry exams “are very, very high because the requirements are low. If you can speak, you get a passing grade, “said Christine Baida, president of the Society for the Development of English Teaching, a Second Language in Quebec (SPEAQ) and now retired educational advisor.

English is not even the poor relative of education, it is the homeless.

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

In secondary school, the number of minutes per week is still quite high, but in primary school it varies between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on the choice of the centers.

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

Few researches and press archives show that the decision to impose English from 1D in 2006 he was arrested due to strong parental pressure.

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

“The Sponge Boy” has its limits

In an interview, Philippa Bell, a professor of second language teaching at UQAM, points out that it is a mistake to believe that we should rush to teach English to young children, when their brain “is a sponge.” ‘established expression.

In the school context, “it is more towards the end of primary and the beginning of secondary” that the student is, cognitively, especially prepared to learn another language, although early exposure still has the merit of to achieve a moment when the child, emotionally, is more receptive to her and has no a priori negative.


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

This is what Guillaume Bouthillier himself has observed. Her two boys, now 13 and 14, have been going to an English camp in Nominingue since they were 6 and 7 years old. Mr. Bouthillier noticed two separate releases. “Their first camp made them immediately lose that apprehension that on a skating rink, in winter, English speakers go on their side and French speakers on the other. »

But it was only at the end of primary school, he continues, that he realized that his children were able to converse.

Their children are lucky, he notes, that family finances allow them to attend a camp that takes them farther than school.

“I myself thought it was a good idea, after CEGEP, to spend a whole year immersing myself in English to improve my English,” says Mr. Bouthillier.

An “ambitious” program on paper

On paper, the English language program is “ambitious,” the Higher Education Council (an independent government agency) wrote in 2014. “The levels set here for primary school are in line with what is generally expected in Europe for the end of secondary school. »2

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

Added to this are shortcomings, especially in special education and in English as a second language, says Nicolas Prévost, president of the Federation of Directors of Educational Structures in Quebec.

At the University of Laval, there are only 50 of the 80 places available for students who want to teach English. At UQAM we have managed to fill the 50 places available in recent years. Concordia University receives 200 applications, but accepts a maximum of 60 students.

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

Eventual government decisions will be influenced by the shortage of teachers and, inevitably, by the political context.

“In Quebec, the teaching of English as a second language, however, plays a much more sensitive chord that resonates with a certain ambivalence,” said the Higher Council of Education in 2014. As a parent. […], everyone wants effective English teaching for their children. At the same time, as a citizen of a state where the linguistic majority is fragile, many fear that learning English will be detrimental to 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 About 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: a balance to be foundHigher Council of Education, 2014

Learn more

  • 338
    Number of tolerances of English as a Second Language commitment in 2020-2021 granted to people who are not legally qualified (due to lack of qualified teachers)

    Source: Quebec Ministry of Education

  • “The state has its share of responsibility for children’s bilingualism. […] Within the framework of the compulsory universal school network, the state must allow everyone to acquire a 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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