What is Bill 96?
Firstly, it is important to understand what Bill 96 is, and how newcomers and international students will be impacted. The declared purpose of Bill 96 is to reinforce and strengthen the use of French in Quebec. In the words of Mr Simon Jolin-Barrette, who introduced the bill, it is there to ‘promote’ and ‘protect’ the French language. But, how does it impact international students who are not confident with their French abilities?
The potential barriers that have arisen from this Bill are as follows:
New residents will have six months to learn French
Those looking to settle down in Quebec will now have only six months to learn French. Government agencies will be permitted to provide services in languages other than French for newcomers, but only for six months. Once the new resident has spent six months in the province, services will only be ordered in French. This includes public services and discourse with the government. Those international students who have limited French skills will face the pressure of having to learn the language, or be unable to communicate with the authorities.
English-language courses are restricted
In the wake of Bill 96, French-language instruction will be mandatory, and English-language courses that can be taught in French CEGEPs (CEGEPs can be described as ‘university preparation schools’ where Quebec students spend two years after high school) will be capped. Essentially, if a student does not possess an acceptable level of skill in written and spoken French, then they will be unable to receive a diploma.
Limited access to English services
Only those who have attended an English school in Canada will be able to access services in English. Some exceptions exist, such as indigenous peoples and students with serious health conditions. However, most residents in Quebec will not have access to English-language services.
Where does this leave anglophone students?
Such limitations will leave prospective international students weighing their options when considering a move to Quebec. Many students, including Avery Wong, have decided to leave, due to the unrealistic nature of learning French in the next two years. Protesting students argue that Bill 96 limits the accessibility of higher education in English. As there is now a cap on enrolment, places will be substantially lower, causing more competition.
Educators argue that the sudden change to the foundation of the CEGEP curriculum will not only lead to failed courses, but many will not graduate. Others will be rejected entirely from university programs due to poor marks in French courses. As a result, a significant segment of Quebec’s student population may have limited career choices and less options beyond academia.
Having anglophone students take three CEGEP courses in French is argued to put them at an academic disadvantage, as the Quebec Education Program requires English school boards to teach French as a second language. Cindy Finn, director general of the Lester B. Pearson School Board, commented that by having students undertake core courses at CEGEP in French, they are instantly put at a disadvantage because they are trying to master content while learning a second language at the same time.
Taking advantage of bilingual schools
Despite the barriers that have been put in place as a result of Bill 96, there are potential solutions for students who wish to make the most of their education within the province. Bilingual schools are a good option for students, so that French and English can be catered for, with anglophones in particular gaining the opportunity to strengthen their French in respect to the new legislature. Elementary schools across the Montreal School Board, for example, oer various levels of French language instruction, integrated within the Quebec Education Program. The cognitive benefits of bilingualism goes beyond that of language development, also bolstering mental flexibility, creative thinking skills, enhanced metalinguistic awareness, and greater communicative sensitivity. With available bilingual programs oering 50% English instruction, and 50% French instruction, this could be an eective solution towards the introduction of the new bill.
What happens next for students?
Ultimately, increasing the amount of French taught in English elementary and high schools will prove a difficult undertaking. With anglophone students needing to be sucient in French within the next two years, there should be more of a focus on implementing more French teachers, or providing the opportunity for French immersion schools. However, there is currently a shortage of French teachers in Montreal, demonstrating the challenges that will come with this.
While such implementations have the potential to help younger students, there is still a concern for international students and new English-speaking residents with insufficient French skills. Two years is not a generous period of time to learn, and become confident in, a different language. Unfortunately, because of this, students have been compelled to leave the province in search of alternative education. However, bilingual schools offer a good opportunity for students to gain sufficient skills in both French and English, which is a possible route for anglophones looking to pursue an education in Quebec.