Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

Language of Instruction and Ethnic Disparities in School Success/la Langue D'enseignement et Les ÉCarts De Réussite Scolaire Au Sein Des Groupes Ethniques

Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

Language of Instruction and Ethnic Disparities in School Success/la Langue D'enseignement et Les ÉCarts De Réussite Scolaire Au Sein Des Groupes Ethniques

Article excerpt

More than ever before, the ongoing evolution of humankind has increased population movements across borders and continents, impacting countries worldwide. With a foreign-born population of nearly 6.8 million in 2011 (representing 20.6% of its total population - the highest proportion among G8 countries), Canada is no exception to this notable global movement of people (Statistics Canada, 2011). In the same year, the francophone province of Quebec was home to 14.4% of all Canadian immigrants. Approximately one million foreign-born people lived in Quebec, representing 12.6% of the province's total population - an increase of nearly 13% from 2006 (Statistics Canada, 2011).

Today, roughly a quarter of the province's schoolchildren under the age of 18 are either immigrants themselves (first generation) or the children of at least one immigrant parent (second generation, Bakhshaei, 2014). Being language-based, Quebec's education system has both a French and English sector. French being the province's official language, the majority of students in the public education system are required, as prescribed by the Charter of the French language (Gouvernement du Québec, 1977), to attend the French sector until the end of their secondary school. There are only three situations established by law that allow a student (except for aboriginal youth) to study in the English sector: 1. when the student or one of their siblings or parents has received the major part of their education in English in Canada, 2. the presence of a serious learning difficulty or family or humanitarian situation, which renders the use of English helpful, and 3. a temporary stay in the province. As a result, nearly 90% of immigrant-origin students (first and second generations) in Quebec are currently enrolled in the French sector. In some of Montreal's public French-language schools, the number of immigrant-origin students is greater than 70%. While these students originate from around the world, most of the first generation students during the 2011-2012 school year came from Africa (particularly from the Maghreb), Asia (particularly from East Asia), and America (particularly from South America and the Caribbean, Bakhshaei, 2014).

With regard to their school performance, immigrant-origin students do not, in general, face a high risk of failure in the Quebec education system. This generally positive finding, however, masks a number of significant variations among different subgroups of students. Taking a closer look, we see, for instance, that these students perform differently based on their region of origin (Mc Andrew et al., 2015). The identification of elements explaining differences in school performance among youth of diverse immigrant origins has therefore become an important objective for the Government of Quebec whose "Policy on Educational Integration and Intercultural Education" (Ministère de l'Éducation du Québec [MEQ], 1998) aims to guarantee all students, regardless of their ethnocultural origin, equal opportunities to succeed in their academic pursuits. Providing adequate support for immigrant-origin students to succeed academically is seen by policymakers and practitioners alike as the key not only for the successful integration of migrant families but also for the prosperity of a society in which immigration is commonplace and diversity is widespread (Council of Ministers of Education, 2012; Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport [MELS], 2009).

In light of this, in the past ten years, the Quebec department of education established a research program to study the demographic, linguistic, socioeconomic, ethnocultural, and schooling characteristics of students from diverse ethnic groups. Its ultimate objective was to identify underlying problems hindering the socio-educational experiences of different subgroups of these students (Mc Andrew & Ledent, 2012). According to this program's most recent study on the educational achievement of immigrant-origin students (Mc Andrew, Ledent, & Murdoch, 2011), in French-language secondary schools, students originating from South Asia (mainly from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh) had the lowest graduation rate among all students (see Table 1). …

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