After nearly three months on the job, Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville has laid out a list of seven priorities to help improve the province’s education system.
In an interview with Global News on Thursday, Drainville said the main challenge is staffing.
“We must look at ways to find teachers or to bring manpower or womanpower into the classrooms,” he said.
To alleviate the burden on teachers, Drainville is proposing to have child care educators, who are already on school premises, act as support staff in the classroom.
He said educators often have gaps in their schedules throughout the day between the morning welcoming period and lunch time, then in the afternoon before after-school programs begin.
He believes it would benefit not only the teachers, who need extra support, but students as well.
Drainville said the second part of the plan is to create a 30-credit fast-track program for teacher certification for those who already have an undergraduate degree in a subject taught in schools. Eligibility requirements for the new program would also be expanded.
Currently in Quebec, students with a bachelor’s degree who want to become teachers have to do what is called a qualifying master’s degree.
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“It’s 60 credits, it takes four, five, six years part-time at night to get this master’s degree that will allow you to become a full-fledged teacher,” he said.
Other topics on Drainville’s priority list include improving French-language instruction, investing in vocational programmes, improving school governance and school infrastructure as well as creating more schools with special programmes to cater to students’ talents and interests, be they focused on arts, sports or other.
Drainville believes the last point could help foster students’ sense of belonging and school pride, as well as increase motivation.
Hiede Yetmen, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said she was “quite pleased” with the minister’s proposed plan.
“I think that anything that is going to improve education is a good thing,” she said.
That being said, Yetman warned success will depend on how the measures are implemented and what criteria will be used.
She was lukewarm to the idea of implementing more special project schools, fearing it could lead to more inequity.
“We have to be careful because we have a three-tiered system in Quebec, we have subsidized private schools, we have special selective project schools and then we have the regular classroom,” she explained.
“If we are going to have more special programs, they can not be selective. we need to allow all students the chance to be in those programs.”
Yetman said she was most excited by the prospect of having teachers’ assistants for elementary schools.
“We think that’s a great idea,” she said, adding that an ongoing pilot project in around 200 schools was proving to be very beneficial.
“What we’re hearing on the ground is that it’s amazing and it really does help the teachers, she said. “I hope that that project will be opened up.”
Yetman noted another added benefit is that it helps support staff achieve full-time status.
In terms of fast-tracking teacher training, Yetman said it will help fill the current shortage.
And while she believes it’s a great idea for high school teachers or adult education and vocational programs, she had reservations when it came to grade school teachers.
“It’s a completely different world,” Yetman said of primary schools. “You’re teaching all subjects and they’re also facing a lot of challenges when it comes to children with special needs.”
Lisa Starr, chair of the department of integrated studies in education at McGill University agreed with Yetman that the teacher shortage needs to be fixed but not at any cost.
“We want good teachers in the classroom, so rushing them through doesn’t necessarily advance them as much as we would like to because then it creates a situation where we’ve got less than adequate teachers in already struggling classrooms,” she said.
While a fast-track program is already in the works at the graduate level, Starr said that maintaining the integrity of the programs it offers is paramount.
“We can do it, I just want to make sure that it serves the communities that we need and maintains the integrity of what we’re trying to offer,” she said.
Drainville said he intends to present a more detailed plan in the near future.
— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez