Quebec has finally joined the other provinces in taking a thorough look at its education system in an effort to bring it up to date. Whereas most of the other provinces established "Royal Commissions" to investigate their education systems, Quebec called its own commission the "Estates General." Established in May 1995, this body released its report, titled The State of Education in Quebec, in April 1996.(1)
The report outlined the main concerns of 2,000 participants in 56 days of public hearings held between May and October 1995. Many of the concerns raised at these hearings were not unlike those heard in other provinces. From the great diversity of opinion expressed in these hearings and in submitted documents, the commission was to distill recommendations for Minister of Education Pauline Marois.
The report of the Estates General represents the completion of the first stage of the mandate given the commission. In the follow-up stage, which has now been completed, 16 regional committees were given 43 questions (taken from The State of Education in Quebec) that the commission deemed most important for discussion at regional conferences. The follow-up report, Summary of the Regional Conferences, was discussed at a provincial conference held in the fall of 1996.
Based on these discussions, the Estates General was to make recommendations to Minister Marois. The underlying issue raised by many of the participants in the public hearings and stated in the briefs presented was "the desire for renewal of certain customary educational practices."
To facilitate discussion, the Estates General organized its April report into 10 chapters, each dealing with a specific theme. For example, the first chapter discusses both the social changes that have taken place in Quebec society over the past two decades and the widespread dissatisfaction with them. Among these social issues are the emergence of new types of families, the gap between rich and poor, the question of pluralism, and the growing diversify of ethnic backgrounds in the province.
Differing voices were raised over the upheavals caused by social changes. Some participants wanted the schools to contribute to a more egalitarian and pluralistic society, while others were more concerned about training skilled workers to increase Quebec's competitiveness in the world economy. Yet amid the differing views, a single main reason given for redefining the educational mission of schools was the need to better respond to diverse student populations, such as the mentally and physically handicapped, minority cultural communities, gifted students, and so on.
The commission believes that great improvements in access to education have been made in the past 30 years, since the work of the Parent Commission helped to establish free, mandatory public education in Quebec. Yet in recent years, changes in the political, economic, social, and cultural climate have made education reform inevitable. The major themes stressed in the report reflect Quebec society today. They are:
* access to education by all segments of Quebec society,
* the overhaul of the curriculum,
* improved teacher education programs,
* raising the profile of vocational education,
* enhancing adult education programs,
* increasing the decision-making power of teachers and decentralizing power in general,
* curtailing support for private education,
* considering whether to retain confessional schools (denominational schools) or to replace them with secular institutions, and
* funding of schools.
It will be difficult for the Estates General to steer clear of the political controversies raging in Quebec. The members of the Parti Quebecois, the governing party in Quebec, are determined to control all aspects of education and to make Quebec a wholly French province. Political and cultural factors will certainly influence education reform in Quebec, as the concerns of the two founding peoples, the French and the English, are played out. …