Decreasing enrolment in English public schools is not a new problem in Quebec.
According to Quebec English School Board Association (QESBA) president Jennifer Maccarone, it’s an issue that dates back to the late 1970s.
“In terms of enrolment in English schools our numbers have been declining significantly since the inception of Bill 101 so right now we’re down to approximately 95,000 students in total enrolment in the province,” she said.
Bill 101, passed into law in 1977, made French the official language of government, courts and workplaces. It also required that all children attend French school, with the exception of those whose parents attended English school in Canada.
READ MORE: What is Bill 101?
Maccarone said there are various ways in which to tackle declining enrolment in English schools, including capitalizing on success.
“We are graduating bilingual students,” she said. “All of our English school boards are in the Top 10 in the province and that’s something we need to celebrate and say ‘listen, you have an opportunity to have an English education and a bilingual future, so choose us.'”
But the issue can’t be solved without a frank conversation about Bill 101 and its impact.
“Any time we talk about Bill 101, it is a challenging conversation,” Maccarone said, adding that despite the difficulty, now is the time to shine the light on the issue.
“We’re not asking to completely revamp the law,” Maccarone said, explaining that a humanitarian clause within the bill could be enacted. “Some of the of the students coming into the province could, technically — on a humanitarian basis — be given eligibility to attend English school.”
Maccarone said allowing immigrants to attend English schools is a solution that would benefit both English and French schools in the province.
“It certainly would relieve the burden that they’re having in the francophone sector with overcrowding,” she said. “It is a win-win situation. It allows us to maintain our numbers and allows the francophone schools to have a little more breathing room.”
Maccarone insists that the idea is to enhance and contribute to the framework of Quebec society.
“We have space in some of our schools and as I said earlier, we are very successful, so there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be given an opportunity to educate those students,” she said. “We’re looking like anybody else, to ensure that our students and our children are remaining vital and that they remain contributing members of society.”