Learning to be different

The officially bilingual status of Canada results in a rather more entertaining education system than that in countries with more decisiveness. Outside Quebec, schools operate in English but offer a "French immersion" stream which apparently involves classes been taught in French, rather than the pupils being dipped in red wine and cheese. This is taken up by franco- and anglophone parents alike to allow their children the chance of being bilingual.

In Quebec, the situation is a little more complex, due to the mixed backgrounds of the population. The province has two publicly funded school boards that offer education in English and French. Originally, these were divided according to religion, with the English-speaking side being Protestant and the French, Catholic. However, this system was later renamed to better reflect the true nature of the split.

By default, a child in Quebec must attend a French-language public school but exceptions are made if you can prove your family has already defected to the dark side. For instance, you may go an English school board institute if you have previously attended an English-speaking school elsewhere in Canada, if you have a sibling being educated in English anywhere in Canada or if one parent did their elementary schooling in English.

When growing up in Montreal, my friend had a choice of school systems, since she had one officially francophone parent and one anglophone. Her school was selected based on academic merit and she joined the English school board stream.... and then promptly enrolled in French immersion.

"You decided not to go to a French-speaking school, but to go to an English school and be taught in French?" I asked, just to completely clarify the situation.

"Yes... but I had more classes in English than if I had gone to a French school," she attempted to justify this completely preposterous statement.

Apparently, the French immersion stream results in half the day being taught in French and half in English, giving a truly bilingual education. I admit, I was quite envious. Not that I think I would have enjoyed it at all at the time, but that is what adulthood is about: reaping the benefits of a tortured childhood.

While this system sounded highly beneficial to all and sundry, my friend warned of its pitfalls. The richer population of Quebec tend to be English speakers who have moved into the province. Because of this, the English school board is better supported by the parents which has resulted in the schools being generally of a higher standard than their French counterparts. Such a division increases the rift already present which is what caused this whole divide in the first place.

Catch 22: created by adults, maintained by 5 year olds.