Quebec Anglo parents divided on French vs. English schools

Quebec's anglophone population is divided when it comes to which school system would be best for their child, a CBC commissioned EKOS poll suggests.

Some parents believe French education opens more doors

Some anglophone parents believe French system opens more doors. 2:43

Quebec's anglophone population is divided when it comes to which school system would be best for their child, a CBC commissioned EKOS poll suggests.

According to the poll results, 39 per cent of respondents said their children would be better off at a French school. However, 45 per cent of the 1,001 Quebec anglophones surveyed said they don't agree that the French school system would be the best choice for them.

The decision of where to send a child to school can be a painstaking one for any parent. But for many Quebec anglophones, that decision-making process also butts up against the language debate.

"It's so politicized. In a way, I have to admit, I felt like I'd be going against my flock. Even though it shouldn't be like that," said Christina Friedrich, who decided to send her son to a French school.

Friedrich herself had dreams of going into medicine, but felt the level of French she was left with at the end of her English school education wasn't strong enough.

Even so, she didn't initially consider the French system for her son, who is legally entitled to attend an English school, until she found one that seemed to be a good fit for her family.

Friedrich said she believes the French system will give her son the tools he needs to be successful in Quebec.

"That's what I wanted for him, to be able to confidently switch from English to French because the fact is, we're in this province and we're not moving," she said.

Mélanie Richard the principal at École Pointe-Claire said even though the school is situated in the West Island, it's still popular with English-speaking parents.

For the past four years, about a third of the students enrolled have come from English households.

"The main reason is they want them to have better work opportunities. They want them to be able to speak in both languages," Richard said.

Fear of losing out

Each year, thousands of students who are eligible to attend an English school in Quebec choose the French system.

Part of the battle facing the Quebec English School Boards Association is letting parents know that the level of French being taught in English schools has come a long way since they were kids.

"The effort today is really to make sure that the French second language experience in our schools is a bi-cultural and bilingual one that is connected to real-world Quebec today," said according to David Birnbaum, executive director of the school boards association.

"That's a work in progress and we have more to do."

Proficiency exams have shown that, in a number of English school boards, anglophone students writing the same test as francophone kids have scored the same or better, according to Birnbaum.

Julie Smith chose an English school for her children in part because she didn't want to risk denying anyone that opportunity in the future.

"We have to be supportive of the English school board," she said. "What happens if that goes away? What options do we have for our kids and for future generations?"

Smith's daughter is already bilingual and her two sons are on their way.

She said the English system not only prepares them for life in Quebec, it helps them hold on to their identity as anglophone Quebecers.

"Our lives are already immersed in French culture so here's my little opening of where they can get exposed to the English part of Quebec. It's very different," she said.

Best of both worlds?

Megan Corbeil and her husband struggled with the decision on where to send her daughter, torn between ensuring she was bilingual and ensuring her English proficiency didn't suffer as result.  

"It was a horrible summer I have to admit. I think it was down to the wire, maybe a week before school was starting, you know, back and forth," she said.

Eventually, the family chose a Clearpoint Elementary, a bilingual school in Pointe Claire.

Their daughter Jacqueline now spends half the week learning in English and the other half in French.

"Once in awhile I think, 'You know what? They could just be a little bit stronger if they were in a French school. Their French would just be that much better,'" She said.

"But I'm really, really happy with the school that we've chosen."

The EKOS poll results are based on a telephone survey conducted between Jan. 15 and Jan. 23 with a random sample of 1,001 anglophone Quebecers.

The margin of error is +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The results