CEGEPs test bilingual waters
BUT NOBODY WANTS to use loaded ‘B’ word on college degrees
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.”
Students visit a campus of Marianopolis College. More CEGEPs are offering programs in both English and French and a dual-language degree.