By Yvonne Sam
A recent, detailed purveyance of students’ school report cards, painted a glaring portrait of indifference and irresponsibility, regarding the academic experiences of Black students in Quebec’s elementary and secondary schools.
This display of indifference embraced a scarcity of access to appropriate reading materials, as well as a paucity of supportive teachers and administrators. The School Boards were certainly not meeting the educational needs and interests of the students. A failing grade was obvious.
Now such a finding has been corroborated by Quebec’s Education Minister Jean Francois Laberge’s recent report that says the English Montreal School Board is grossly dysfunctional, in so much that he suggested stripping the Board of its powers, or putting them under trusteeship.
The report outlined conflicts, mismanagement and serious governance issues. globalnews.ca/news/5898320/emsb-dysfunctional-quebec-report-inquiry-findings/
The English Montreal School Board (EMSB), the largest English public school board in Quebec, was established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards, along linguistic lines. Quebec’s school system differs from those in the rest of Canada. www.emsb.qc.ca/emsb/about/school-board.
In the report, the school commissioners also came under fire, as there was misunderstanding of their roles, leading to gross inaction in some cases. Elected by the citizens, the role of school commissioner is an extremely important one. They determine the orientations of the school board, taking into consideration the interests of the students, parents and electors of their community. www.education.gouv.qc.ca/en/contenus-communs/parents-and-guardians/elections-scolaires-2014/the-role-of-school-commissioners/.
Already, schools within the system have been accused of not valuing, or bringing into play, the cultural and intellectual capital of Black students.
In further conversation about their school life, Black students talked about disadvantageous treatment, as well as the open indifference and absence of attention to their needs, shown by both teachers and school administrators.
They said they observed the “streaming” of Black students into courses below their ability level, with some students being discouraged from going to CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel or in English, College of General and Vocation Education).
They also observed a more disciplinary punishment of Black students. Such matters of contention lend support to estranging and controversial school days for Black students. And none of this is new; it has been ongoing for years.
In the report, Education Minister Laberge called the allegations “serious and troubling”. The report is saying that some political interests are taking the place, before the students’ interests,” he said. “The politicization of the governments of the school boards is causing pain to employees, teachers, principals, and students, so it’s a huge problem.”
The Education Minister further went on to state that his ministry will launch an exhaustive investigation into “troubling and serious allegations”, about irregularities in the awarding of contracts, related to vocational training. He said the board entered into partnerships with organizations that are not recognized by the Education Ministry and which provide “substandard instruction”. www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/english-montreal-school-board-investigation-mismanagement-1.4980022.
To rectify this seeming wrongdoing, school boards need to strongly encourage educational materials that enable a responsive and relevant learning environment.
This latest report, regarding the school board has given rise to parental concern, especially among Black parents, who already hold the opinion that the current schooling environment in Quebec is somewhat estranged, making learning challenging and difficult.
The sooner the Education Minister decides on the steps to be taken, to restore order to the English Montreal School Board, the better. The School Board should function effectively, but the crucial thing is to monitor the performance of school administrators, school commissioners and individual teachers.
To coin a well-known African proverb: “When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers”.
Basically, when two powerful beings clash, it is the powerless that suffer. Here the powerless is known, the Black students, thus the suffering should cease.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.