Ottawa

English board teachers in Quebec balk at government's school-like 'camps'

While most high school students in Quebec are set to remain at home until September, some at-risk or vulnerable secondary students will be invited to attend what the province's Education Ministry is calling a "pedagogical camp." 

School boards must start 3-week camp Monday for secondary students at risk of failing

A cleaner helps clean a classroom at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. Quebec teachers in the English system are concerned about the workload posed by a mandatory three-week camp for students with special needs this June. (Jonathon Hayward/The Canadian Press)

While most high school students in Quebec are set to remain at home until September, some secondary students at risk of failing the school year will be invited to attend what the province's Education Ministry is calling a "pedagogical camp." 

The three-week-long learning camps will be held at high schools, which have remained closed since mid-March, as well as at elementary schools in Montreal which have yet to reopen.

Quebec's Ministry of Education provided general instructions to school boards in a four-paragraph letter dated June 1, which indicates the camps must be operating by the week of June 8. A subsequent letter sent June 3 says the camps are intended for students at risk of failing.

The union representing teachers who work in the province's English schools is critical of the plan.

"This is typical of this government from the day that the schools closed — very last minute, very improvised," said Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers.

"We're always running around with each new directive that the ministry is throwing us and there is no time to actually sit down and properly plan the return [to class] of the fall," she said.

Attendance voluntary

In the initial letter to Quebec's school boards, the deputy minister of education Erik Blackburn said student participation is voluntary and each board is responsible for creating a list of students to invite. No selection criteria are listed.

The camps should not include any formal evaluations and group size must be limited to 10, the letter says. 

Whether the camps will be beneficial for students and their parents remains highly questionable, said Yetman.

"I'm not sure exactly how this is going to help," she said. "What about the kids that don't show up?"

CBC Ottawa requested a comment and clarification from Quebec's Education Ministry but has yet to hear back.

'Unbelievable and frustrating'

Instead of putting energy into the camp, Yetman believes the ministry and school boards would be better off focusing on the eventual return of all students in the fall.

"Our teachers are working extremely hard right now. To have one more thing put on the plate of teachers and of the school board is unbelievable and frustrating."

As for parents who fear their at-risk child may be disproportionately affected by a lack of class time, Yetman wants them to have faith in teachers.

"When we come back in the fall, all students [will] have lost learning. But teachers are amazing. They will catch everybody up."

Mike Dubeau, director general of the Western Quebec School Board, told CBC News that he doubted the camps would take away from teachers' ability to prepare for the fall semester.

"Of course, having more time would be great, but we don't always have the luxury of having a lot of time. So, we're going to do the best we can with the time we have," said Dubeau.

Dubeau described the camps as another way to help students who are struggling academically. Schools will also be given more flexibility to tailor the camps to the needs of their students, he added.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story said the camps are intended for special needs students, but the Quebec government later clarified that they're for students who may be at risk of failing the school year.
    Jun 06, 2020 8:22 PM ET

About the Author

Giacomo Panico

CBC Reporter and Host

You can reach Giacomo by email Giacomo.Panico@cbc.ca.

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