CEGEPs test bilin­gual waters

BUT NO­BODY WANTS to use loaded ‘B’ word on col­lege de­grees

Montreal Gazette - - Front Page - CATHER­INE SOLYOM csolyom@ mon­tre­al­gazette.com Twit­ter: csolyom

In a bid to en­cour­age young peo­ple to con­tinue their stud­ies in Que­bec and launch their ca­reers here, sev­eral CEGEPs are ven­tur­ing into new ter­ri­tory of­fer­ing bilin­gual pro­grams. Cather­ine Solyom re­ports sev­eral CEGEPs have or­ga­nized bilin­gual ex­changes to al­low stu­dents to fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with an aca­demic vo­cab­u­lary in their sec­ond lan­guage.

In Mon­treal, where more than half the pop­u­la­tion speaks English and French (and the rest surely wish they did) the idea of a bilin­gual CEGEP is a no-brainer.

Grad­u­at­ing with a col­lege de­gree that at­tests to your abil­ity to work in ei­ther lan­guage is a huge as­set, both in­side and out­side Que­bec.

And yet only now are cer­tain col­leges mak­ing their first timid at­tempts to­ward of­fer­ing English and French col­lege de­grees — not to use the dreaded “B” word.

Just how far they can go be­fore ruf­fling the gov­ern­ment’s feath­ers re­mains to be seen, how­ever.

In the pri­vate world, Mar­i­a­nop­o­lis is in its third year of an ex­change pro­gram with Col­lège Je­ande-Brébeuf, whereby stu­dents from one col­lege can com­plete their last se­mes­ter and fin­ish their de­grees at the other.

“It’s to try to stop the brain drain,” says a Mar­i­a­nop­o­lis spokes­woman, Kathryn Har­alam­bous. About half of the col­lege’s stu­dents are fran­co­phones, she said. “It’s about learn­ing chem­istry or math terms in the other lan­guage. If you’ve been in French schools your whole life, but you’re go­ing into McGill medicine, you won’t be hear­ing the terms for the first time.”

Mean­while, at Col­lé­gial In­ter­na­tional Ste-Anne, a pri­vate fran­co­phone CEGEP in La­chine, stu­dents take three hours of classes in English a week dur­ing their first se­mes­ter, grad­u­ally in­creas­ing their Eng- lish classes un­til the last se­mes­ter is en­tirely in English.

“That way fran­co­phone stu­dents can de­velop the com­pe­ten­cies in English that are in­dis­pens­able to higher learn­ing and pro­fes­sional suc­cess,” reads the col­lege’s web­site. “For their part, an­glo­phone stu­dents can con­tinue to de­velop their mas­tery of French while be­ing able to take cour­ses in their mother tongue.”

But what of a bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion at the pub­lic col­leges un­der a gov­ern­ment that cam­paigned in 2012 on bar­ring non-an­glo­phones from Que­bec’s seven English-lan­guage CEGEPs?

Well un­der the radar this fall, Vanier Col­lege and CEGEP StLau­rent, neigh­bours in the St-Lau­rent bor­ough, be­gan an ex­change in sci­ence and so­cial sciences whereby stu­dents at­tend one-third of their classes at the other col­lege.

Sci­ence stu­dents in their first se­mes­ter study chem­istry in the other lan­guage, while so­cial sci­ence stu­dents study the his­tory of western civ­i­liza­tion in the other lan­guage.

It’s a pro­gram that’s been in the works for three or four years, said pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor Loris Peter­nelli, but was de­layed by the 2012 stu­dent demon­stra­tions, and was only ap­proved — by the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment — half­way through 2012.

As a re­sult, only four Vanier stu­dents and 10 CSL stu­dents en­rolled.

To be sure, it’s not a pro­gram for ev­ery­one, said Peter­nelli, who teaches psy­chol­ogy at Vanier. Stu­dents must have at least an 80 per cent av­er­age, and at the end of their col­lege stud­ies they must write exit ex­ams in English and French.

But they get a dual-lan­guage de­gree, he said, which opens all kinds of doors for stu­dents, as well as im­mer­sion in another cul­ture, another way of do­ing things, another cafe­te­ria.

“Ac­tu­ally the cafe­te­ria came up a lot when we were dis­cussing how stu­dents felt about the pro­gram,” Peter­nelli joked.

“We’re a three-minute walk from each other, but un­til now, there have not been many chances to in­ter­act. This is build­ing a bridge be­tween the two soli­tudes.”

Ac­cord­ing to Peter­nelli, the pro­gram is now a “fait ac­com­pli.”

“But what hap­pens po­lit­i­cally, we have no con­trol over,” he said, care­ful to use the more neu­tral “English and French” rather than call the pro­gram bilin­gual.

So how does the gov­ern­ment feel about this rap­proche­ment?

The con­tro­ver­sial Bill 14 to force English CEGEPs to give pref­er­ence to an­glo­phones was shelved in Novem­ber — but could be re­vived if the PQ ever forms a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment. At the time, Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Diane de Courcy re­marked: “Is it nor­mal that the largest col­lege in Que­bec is an an­glo­phone col­lege, Daw­son Col­lege?”

In De­cem­ber, Joël Bouchard, the press at­taché for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Pierre Duch­esne, char­ac­ter­ized the Vanier/CEGEP St-Lau­rent pro­gram as “an ex­per­i­men­tal pro­gram au­tho­rized by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment.”

Duch­esne would not com­ment on it un­til af­ter the eval­u­a­tion of the pro­gram in the sum­mer of 2015, Bouchard said.

As for whether the min­is­ter would be for or against the ex­pan­sion of such pro­grams and even the de­vel­op­ment of pub­lic bilin­gual CEGEPs, Bouchard said: “It’s a hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion, since we have no other re­quests for such pro­grams. We will wait for the eval­u­a­tion.”

Daw­son Col­lege, for its part, where a siz­able pro­por­tion of stu­dents are fran­co­phone, is mulling the idea of of­fer­ing some of its so­cial sci­ence classes in French.

Peo­ple are talk­ing, says com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Donna Var­rica — at the depart­ment level and at the level of the Deans.

“You want to stay vi­able, cur­rent, rel­e­vant, and to fully in­te­grate stu­dents into the re­al­ity of liv­ing in Que­bec,” says Var­rica, who likens the idea to French im­mer­sion for young adults. “The fact is a lot of stu­dents here are from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and we don’t want to be pi­geon­holed as an an­glo col­lege. … We wouldn’t be hu­man if we didn’t ask the ques­tion: Would we be serv­ing so­ci­ety bet­ter if we had a com­po­nent to teach some cour­ses in French?”

But there are no for­mal plans on the ta­ble, she stressed.

“The gov­ern­ment would cer­tainly have some­thing to say about it.”

ALLEN MCIN­NIS/ GAZETTE FILES

Stu­dents visit a cam­pus of Mar­i­a­nop­o­lis Col­lege. More CEGEPs are of­fer­ing pro­grams in both English and French and a dual-lan­guage de­gree.

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