Teaching English in Primary School | A mature program for the review of the Ministry

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Department of Education is assessing students’ proficiency in English, a second language, in Quebec. Among other unavoidable questions: teaching English from the 1stD. year, starting from 2006, has borne fruit?

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Luisa Leduc

Luisa Leduc
The print

Last week, The print revealed Quebec City’s desire to develop an enriched program with English in 6And year.

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

What impact has the implementation of English in 1D. year, dating back to 2006? In response to our question, the Ministry of Education sent us a 2019 study that did not focus on this, but on another path – which is also considered much more promising by researchers -, namely that of intensive English in 5And and in 6And year.

And while they may be only part of the answer, the results compared to the Ministry’s secondary school exams of the first cohorts who started English at age 6 compared to previous generations show no marked 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 from 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, the percentages of passing the Ministry exams “are very, very high because the requirements are low. If you can babbler, you get a positive grade, ”says Christine Baida, president of the Society for the Development of English Teaching, a Second Language in Quebec (SPEAQ) and now retired education consultant.

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

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

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

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

Little research and press archives show that the decision to impose English from 1D. year in 2006 was taken 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 university level [du primaire] as implemented in Quebec primary schools, it responds to scientific evidence clearly exposed in the literature. On the other hand, it is clear that within the population and between parents there is a demand for such early learning, which this measure seems to want to answer. “1

“The sponge baby” has its limitations

In an interview, Philippa Bell, professor of teaching second languages ​​at UQAM, points out that it is wrong to believe that we must hurry to teach English to the little ones, when their brains “are a sponge”, according to the established expression. .

In a school context, “it is more towards the end of primary and the beginning of secondary” that the pupil is, cognitively, particularly ready to learn another language, even if early exposure still has the merit of reach a moment in which the child, emotionally, is more receptive to it and does not have a priori negative.


Guillaume Bouthillier and Geneviève Gyger with their children Alexandre and Antoine

This is what Guillaume Bouthillier himself observed. His two boys, who are now 13 and 14, 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 this apprehension that on a skating rink, in winter, English speakers go to their side and French speakers on the other. ”

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

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

“I myself thought it was a good idea, after CEGEP, to spend a full year of immersion in English to improve my English,” says Bouthillier.

An “ambitious” program, on paper

On paper, the British program is “ambitious”, wrote the Higher Council for Education (a body independent of the government) in 2014. “The levels taken into consideration here for primary school correspond to what is generally expected in Europe for the end of secondary school. “2

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

Added to this are the shortcomings, particularly evident in special education and English as a second language, points out Nicolas Prévost, president of the Federation of Directors of Educational Institutions of Quebec.

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

How many schools will offer the intensive English programs promoted by researchers and requested by parents? Should we or can we continue to teach English from the first year?D. year or should we focus this teaching at the age when, cognitively, research says it’s ideal?

Any 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, strikes a chord all the more sensitive as it resonates with a certain ambivalence, noted the Higher Education Council 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 at the expense of French and will 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 elementary schools: a balance to be foundSuperior Council of Education, 2014

Learn more

  • 338
    Number of tolerances for engaging English as a second language in 2020-2021 granted to non-legally qualified persons (due to lack of qualified teachers)

    Source: Quebec Ministry of Education

  • “The state has its share of responsibility for children’s bilingualism. […] As part of the universal compulsory education network, the state must allow everyone to acquire a functional knowledge of the English language […] using the most proven methods. “

    Source: States General Commission on the Situation and Future of the French Language in Quebec, 2001, p. 54-55

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