Highlighting the pluses of French education

  • May 22, 2007
If C1+ reminds you of a mediocre grade you got in high school chemistry, that’s because you weren’t paying attention in French class either.
C1+ is pronounced C’est une plus, meaning “it’s a plus.” The French Catholic school system in Ontario is using the bit of shorthand to promote its schools to the 38 per cent of Franco-Ontarian families who are sending their children to English schools. The launching pad for the campaign is at www.c1plus.ca.

Though it is the result of three years in the planning process, the campaign to promote French-language Catholic education comes just as the schools find themselves under attack by opponents of Catholic education rights and some public school trustees.

Last month District School Board Ontario North East in Timmins sent a letter to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne complaining that the French Catholic school board in northeastern Ontario is getting almost $10 million to expand programming while the English public board struggles with shrinking enrolment. Some of the Timmins public school trustees are calling for a single school board system in Ontario that would eliminate both English and French Catholic systems.

By reducing Timmins’ four school boards to one, administrative costs could be cut in half, said Timmins trustee Corinne Miller. Miller is promoting the idea of a referendum on a single school system during a future provincial election.

Carole Drouin, executive director of the Association Franco-Ontarienne des Conseils Scolaires Catholiques, sees no evidence for Miller’s claim that money could be saved. When school boards and systems were amalgamated in Newfoundland there were no cost savings, she said. After amalgamating several  school boards in the Ottawa area in 1989 costs rose, she said.

“We think education is well managed in Ontario, and we encourage the government to maintain the four systems,” the English separate and public systems and the French separate and public systems, she said.

With 72,000 of the 92,000 French-language students in Ontario, the Catholic schools are the majority’s choice among French-speaking parents. In recent years the French Catholic system has added a significant number of schools, and the C1+ campaign aims at making sure parents know choosing a French Catholic school is both a right and practical option in most parts of the province, said Drouin.

The C1+ campaign is also the French Catholic schools’ way of responding to warnings from Canada’s official languages commissioner that French minorities throughout English-speaking Canada are being assimilated.

“When Stephane Dion was responsible for official languages he prepared a report in which he stated there should be more recruitment done by French schools,” said Drouin.

Some of the promotion is aimed at recent francophone immigrants, many of them from Africa.

“We thought that most of these new immigrants would be opting to send their children to the French schools if their first language was French, or one of the languages spoken at home was French when they were in Africa,” said Drouin. “We’re finding out that parents have to be convinced.”

The perception that jobs in Toronto are in English has some African immigrants opting for the language of commerce when they send their kids to school.

The French schools have to show immigrant parents that their children will learn English anyway, and growing up bilingual will eventually open up greater possibilities for their children, said Drouin.

“Parents who send their kids to immersion schools think that they will come out  of that program fully bilingual. It’s not the case,” said Drouin. “The French in immersion is taught as a language of service — it’s a second language.”

The largely Congolese immigrant parents already sending their children to Sacre Couer Catholic School in downtown Toronto don’t need to be convinced, said Sacre Couer’s day care director Julie Meta. About 75 per cent of the school’s 125 Kindergarten to Grade 6 students are from African families.

Values, religious practice and discipline are all factors when African parents choose French Catholic schools, said Meta.

“Here (in Canada) kids have more power,” she said. “We parents have to deal with it.”

Parents hope that tough Catholic schools will instill discipline and enforce limits on behaviour. A lot of that hope is based on the reputation Catholic schools have in Africa.

Ultimately, the C1+ campaign has to be backed up with academic excellence, said Drouin. EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) test results higher than in either the Catholic or public English school systems, and an 82-per-cent graduation rate for French Catholic high school students, make the French system that much more attractive, said Drouin.

As for the brewing political storm from public trustees who think the French Catholic system is getting too much of the provincial education pie, Drouin doesn’t want to talk about it.

“We prefer, as a political organization, to talk to the politicians who make these decisions and let them know that Catholic education is important to the French community,” she said.

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