Education in Quebec City gets top marks

Date 29/09/2016

Written byTaylor Ireland

Students are back at the books again, from pre-Ks to PhDs, which offers me as good an occasion as any to take a closer look at the kind of educational opportunities Quebec City offers. Not surprisingly, as in just about every subject you can think of, the city gets an exceptional grade.

In a previous blog, I touched briefly on perhaps one of the most counter-intuitive facts about a city with a 90-plus percent French-speaking population. It probably comes as a surprise to learn there is an extensive network of English-language schools in the city, including six elementary schools and three high schools. Recent reviews of Quebec schools give these English institutions high marks for quality of education. Smaller class sizes and the dedication of teachers seems to be the key to this success.

Historically, schools in the province of Quebec were grouped by religious affiliation under separate boards. For example, St. Patrick’s High School was under the Catholic school board along with French-language schools. Quebec High School was under the local Protestant administration. Since 2000, schools have been divided along linguistic lines, meaning St. Patrick’s and QHS are under the same English-language board, the Central Quebec School Board.

The English schools in the city are a great asset but, due to legislation intended to protect the French language in the province, they are not open to all. So, an important question for anyone thinking of moving to Quebec City from outside the province is: Can I send my kids to English public school? The short answer is, it depends. Under the language laws only the children of a mother or a father who did the majority of their elementary school in English in Canada (including Quebec) are eligible. There are several important nuances to this general rule, but that is the basic test.

However, there are several key exemptions from the general rules that make English public school possible for children of parents who do not meet the criteria. The most important one is the temporary permit available to people who come to Quebec for work or study. This permit is valid for three years, but, depending on circumstances, it could be extended.

There is another exemption that can be granted, upon request and review, on compassionate grounds, taking into account serious family or humanitarian circumstances, or a child’s disability.

Home-schooling in English is another increasingly popular option, and is allowed as long as the education a child receives meets standards established by the provincial education ministry.

I should mention that there is another choice available for English education at the primary level. These are the fully private Vision Schools, a network of pre-school and primary schools in the province. There are three in the Quebec City region, as well as partnerships with two existing semi-private schools in the city. The schools have substantial fees, and offer instruction in French, English and Spanish. They do not provide eligibility to switch to the English public school system.

If parents are unable or choose not to send their children to English school, there is a lot to be said for sending them to French school. While a child might find the transition a challenge at first, the gift of another language through free public education is a considerable benefit and advantage in the longer term.

In the French system, there are various options, from public, to government-funded private, to fully private schools independent of government, but subject to curriculum guidelines.

Once a student completes high school, there are no more restrictions on the language of instruction. Most students who graduate high school move on to junior college, known as a Cegep (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel), which is the public education bridge to university or training in a wide variety of trades. Quebec City has the good fortune of having an exceptional English Cegep, known as St. Lawrence College (SLC). St. Lawrence is such a desirable choice that each year it must refuse hundreds of applications. The majority of students who do get accepted are from French schools, but the college gives priority to those coming from the English system. SLC has a tradition of graduating students who go on to success in many fields of endeavour.

If university is the chosen path, again, Quebec City is home to a world class institution, which is fitting, since Laval University is one of the oldest universities on the continent, with its origins dating back to 1663. Laval has outstanding faculties of medicine, law, engineering, dentistry, accounting and business, but also has the full gamut of undergraduate and post-graduate programs in arts, science, humanities and social science. A wide variety of courses are available in English, including in the MBA program. You can even earn your MA in English Literature, entirely in English.

Besides its academic offerings, Laval boast some of the best sports facilities in the country, with a large modern expansion opened recently.

Another valuable educational asset in the city is the Eastern Quebec Learning Centre. Operated by the Central Quebec School Board, the centre offers general education for those who want to complete secondary education or improve language skills in French or English. It has career programs in both medical and business fields. Courses are generally free with some modest fees.

 That’s the quick overview of the range of educational choices available in Quebec City. There’s a whole other universe of general interest programs and courses available for all ages, but maybe we’ll leave that for another time.