History repeats itself: English schools await books

Photo: Scott French

Left: one of three new  workbooks available to the French sector. The English workbook (right) was created in 2007 as a stop-gap measure; it doesn’t cover the new curriculum.

Quebec City teens expecting to hit the books this fall have found the task even more difficult than expected. History instructors teaching the new two-year Secondary 3 and 4 program, History and Citizenship, are without English translations of textbooks for the first year of the program this year. The Ministère de l’Éducation, Loisir et Sport has made a draft copy of the first volume of the Secondary 4 textbook available to teachers in the English sector.

The draft copy of the Secondary 4 textbook was translated over the summer after the eight school boards of the Quebec English School Board Association put pressure on the Ministry of Education to do so. The second volume is expected later this fall.

“I see the effort on the part of the school board, but I am frustrated that I have to make do. For our students we are always making do,” said Gina Farnell, the history teacher at Quebec High School. She received her draft copy of the textbook the first day of school and is still without the teacher’s guide.

The French sector, meanwhile, has as many as three Secondary 4 history textbooks to choose from this year.

Without being able to rely on the Secondary 4 textbook, Farnell must spend twice as much time developing original class plans using material from the Internet. Farnell primarily consults the website of L.E.A.R.N., an educational foundation offering support materials to English schools in Quebec.

Farnell said the school is relying on an outdated workbook and will spend thousands of dollars on photocopied handouts this year.

François Turgeon understands Farnell’s frustration. After attending several French-language training sessions for the new history program, it became apparent to the St. Patrick’s High School teacher that the new history textbooks wouldn’t be available in the fall.

Turgeon says he has spent dozens of hours developing his own lectures for the Secondary 4 program.
“Whenever the MELS produces new French textbooks, it always takes a couple of years for the English textbooks to be translated,” Marielle Stewart, director of instructional services at the Central Quebec School Board said.

Stewart downplayed the role textbooks play in the new curriculum, however: “The textbooks are only a tool, it’s not the whole program,” she said, adding, “With a new program, time needs to be invested ... we are always changing strategies to meet the needs of the children.”

Asked whether the inconsistencies between the French and English sectors are fair, Stewart said, “No, it’s not fair; we’ve been asking for simultaneous translation for years.”

The first Secondary 4 cohort to go through the new history program will write their provincial exams in June. A call to the MELS on Friday went unanswered by press time.