Reform of French Language Education | Bernard Drainville’s Guidelines

In an effort to modernize the French language curriculum taught in primary and secondary schools in Quebec, Bernard Drainville announced a year ago that he aimed to improve success rates and engage students in Quebec culture. He has unveiled seven initial guidelines to La Presse that have sparked debates, such as the use of rectified spelling or the choice of calligraphy taught.

Since June 2023, the Ministry of Education has been engaged in a comprehensive project to present a provisional version of the new French program by summer 2025. This program will be tested in targeted schools for the 2025-2026 school year and then implemented throughout the entire network the following year.

At the request of La Presse, Mr. Drainville’s office has revealed seven initial guidelines guiding the reform. One of them is to have experts reflect on the issue of rectified spelling (oignon or ognon, embûche or embuche, etc.) and pronounce on its teaching. Currently, teachers who teach rectified spelling do so on their own initiative, and Quebec takes the rectifications into account to not penalize students who use it.

The Ministry of Education also plans to update the vocabulary words that students learn in primary school and is considering making this spelling list mandatory. Additionally, while two types of calligraphy are currently taught in schools, and studies suggest that one should be prioritized, Quebec is pondering what to do. Should we stop teaching cursive letters? “We have asked experts to look into the issue,” they say.

Among the other guidelines that the government wants to study in developing the new program, it is already certain that access to Quebec culture will be enhanced. The Ministry also intends to give more importance to oral communication and introduce concepts in the late primary years that are currently only taught in secondary school.

“French teachers need time, support, and resources to implement the new program in classrooms. Without that, we are not sure the program will be successful,” warns Justin Taschereau, president of the Quebec Association of French Teachers.

In recent months, 7500 individuals (teachers, educational advisors, orthopedagogues, and school principals) responded to an online survey on the reform of the French program, while 41 discussion groups were organized by the minister and his teams.

Martin Lépine, a professor of French didactics at the Faculty of Education at the University of Sherbrooke, is one of the experts who met with Bernard Drainville. He proposed to the minister to establish a new “p.a.c.t.e.” between the school, families, and students to make learning French a “pleasure,” ensure that children have easy “access” to books and works, have a variety of “choices” and “time” dedicated daily to reading and writing, and do so in conducive and pleasant “spaces.”

“If the school does not instill the desire to read, write, and communicate, it’s as if we are pushing students towards English-language series in the evening because the school did not instill in them the love for their own language during the day,” he says.

Érick Falardeau, director of the Department of Studies on Teaching and Learning at Laval University and a full professor of French didactics, also believes that schools must focus on the pleasure of learning.

How to generate it? By working on the essential need to feel good, even while learning; by developing autonomy, which includes offering a variety of works to choose from; and by discussing in class the emotions a book evokes rather than evaluating students with traditional reading tests.

For Olivier Dezutter, a full professor in the Department of Pedagogy at the Faculty of Education at the University of Sherbrooke, there is also a need to strengthen initiatives to bring creators into schools and incorporate these encounters into the program.

“The student must be in contact with culture and cultural actors. Authors, publishers, journalists, people who work with language. We have just conducted research on the impacts of cultural activities in collaboration with artists, and the effect is [beneficial] for all students, even the weakest ones,” he asserts.

Professor Elaine Turgeon, from the Department of Didactics at UQAM, who has notably led the collective “Encounters: when book creators enter schools,” confirms: “When we invite a creator to school, we provide a role model for children.”

“I was born in the 1970s. Books were written by either deceased individuals or authors living in Europe. When children have the chance to meet living individuals who express their pleasure in reading and writing, the school creates the opportunity for that to develop in children,” she says.

In announcing the start of the French program reform, Bernard Drainville indicated that he aimed to return to an overall success rate of nearly 80% on the fifth secondary level ministry writing test (unique French test). In 2023, this rate was 74.8% for combined public and private schools, but there was a significant gap between the two networks.

Furthermore, by dissecting the detailed results of this ministerial exam, it is observed that one out of two students in public schools failed in 2023 in the category of spelling and grammar correctness (success rate of 50.9%, compared to 70.8% for private school students). According to the Quebec Association of Educational Advisors, these results have unfortunately remained stable for several years. The Ministry has begun evaluating the most common errors made by students to provide this data to teachers.

Seven points of the Drainville reform

• In addition to Quebec literature, draw from local culture with songs, theater, cinema, or TV series to teach French concepts;
• Review the order of priorities in teaching grammar for each educational level to improve success. Example: better distribute the teaching of verb tenses to ensure that students master them well;
• Have experts weigh in on the type of calligraphy that should be taught in school;
• Give more importance to oral communication at all educational levels;
• Introduce concepts in the final years of primary school that are currently only covered in secondary school;
• Update the list of vocabulary words taught to primary school children to reflect today’s reality and evaluate the possibility of making it mandatory;
• Have experts weigh in on the teaching of rectified spelling and take it into account in the development of the new program.

Call to Action

What should be the Education Minister’s priority in his reform of the French program taught to primary and secondary school students?

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