Language, Dropout Issues Vex Quebec

THE French Language Charter, enacted in Quebec in 1986, is changing the face of education in that province.

Quebec, an overwhelmingly French-speaking region of Canada, follows Bill 101. Under the bill, a student is eligible to attend an English school only if he has one parent who attended an English elementary school in Canada.

Generally, there are exceptions, such as students living in the province temporarily because of a parent's job transfer. At present, about one-tenth of the school children in Quebec attend English schools; the proportion is higher in and around cities.

The bill makes it especially hard on Quebec immigrants, who must attend French schools even if their mother tongue is English. With far fewer immigrants able to enter the English system, the English school population is dwindling. Many immigrants traditionally chose the English system because the French was seen as French-Catholic while the English system was English-Protestant-and-"other." There has been talk of loosening the bill's provisions.

Today, there are some 350 English schools and 2,550 French ones; both have mandatory classes in the other's language.

Unique to Canada is Quebec's post-secondary-school education, which is similar to the French model. Schooling is mandatory from age 6 to 16. After secondary school, students enter preparatory school, the College d'Enseignement Gral et Professionnel, better known as CEGEP.

The "college" serves as grades 12 and 13, sometimes 14, depending on the course of study. Students may follow a vocational path that leads into a career, or an academic path that leads into university.

A pressing concern for educators in Quebec - and all Canada - is the high dropout rate. In Quebec, on average, only about 64 percent of young people finish secondary school. Near cities, the graduation rate is significantly better, meaning that the dropout rate is much higher in rural areas where less-educated parents are not as likely to encourage their children to continue in school.

Many programs exist to help keep teens in school, both French and English. Adult education also allows older students to earn high-school diplomas.

Some programs pay heed to the idea of prevention. Centennial Regional High School, for example, has a "Detour" work-study program designed to keep students interested in learning. They're "caught" around grade 7 or 8. "These kids are bright kids," says Christine Harvey, an art teacher there. "They just need directing, hence the name Detour."

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