In just a few days, you and I will be back in the National Assembly to debate the future of education in Quebec, you as Minister of Education, me as responsible for the cause of Québec solidaire.
I commit to primary school because I owe it a lot. For immigrants, the choice of school for their children is doubly important: it is not only a matter of ensuring their success, but also their integration into the host society in Quebec. My parents chose to send me to the neighborhood school. It was the right choice.
During my university studies and when I entered the workforce, I never felt that my private school peers had an advantage. On the contrary, in my case and so many others, the primary school has done its work with social mobility. Today, the social elevator is out of service.
The “regular” school
How many parents make the neighborhood school their first choice? The “regular” school has become synonymous with inadequate services, a race to the bottom, abandonment. Result: according to a report by the Superior Council of Education in Quebec, the Quebec system is the most unequal in Canada. 15% of pupils in mainstream primary schools go to university, compared to 60% of young people in the private sector. Embarrassing, you say?
When he was in opposition, your predecessor, Jean-François Roberge, did not mince his words to describe the situation: “you are born poor, you drop out.” This clarity has unfortunately been lacking in the CAQ since it came to power. Following Mr. Roberge’s ideological priorities, including school boards and 4-year kindergartens, public schools need an urgent dose of pragmatism.
It is not the problems that are missing; it is will.
If female teachers continue to drop out in such large numbers, we cannot expect young people to hang around, especially since it is in the most disadvantaged classes that the burden is often the heaviest. You are right: teachers cannot be invented. We must attract them and keep them in their jobs, of course with better pay, but above all by relieving them of the tasks that prevent them from doing their work.
If difficult students have to wait for months to get a diagnosis because the academic resources are overwhelmed, you cannot expect the young people to be successful. Reimbursement of a private diagnosis does not solve everything. It is still necessary for the school to have the means to ensure real follow-up rather than returning the ball to the teacher’s court.
It is not the problems that are missing; it listens.
The minister must listen
In recent years, my colleague Christine Labrie has received hundreds of testimonials from parents, teachers, teaching assistants, social workers and so on. People in primary schools tell us that the bigger the problems, the less the department listens.
Some will blame you for not coming from the middle. For me, the important thing is to mend the bridges by meeting the people who carry the system at arm’s length. They are your best advisors. Listen to them, gain their trust, do not reject their solutions outright, even if they do not fit into CAQ’s ideology.
“You’re born poor, you drop out”, it’s not inevitable. Public schools are the engine of equal opportunity in Quebec. We need an education minister who spares no effort to restart it. Do you want to be that spark plug?
MNA for Mercier and Québec solidaire education advocate