Faced with the poor results of CEGEP students on the uniform French test, Bernard Tremblay, President and CEO of the Fédération des cégeps, had the brilliant idea of allowing them to use the Antidote correction software to improve success rates.
Why not follow through on this relentless logic by simply hiding their degrees in a Cracker Jack box? This would have the merit of increasing graduation rates, a real goal, even if it means offering future employers a cohort of functional illiterates, as is already the case in Quebec for a large part of the population.
This way of reacting to such a glaring and serious problem reminds me of a parent who, faced with the outbreak of his child’s fever, simply decides to break the thermometer or even to soak it in cold water. Nice way to solve the problem and especially not to look into its causes!
The same goes for the difficulties that students have in reading, writing and understanding a text. Instead of looking for the causes at the origin of these difficulties in order to then propose a truly effective solution, people in a position of authority rather offer to offer them a set of prostheses, like this correction software, to avoid to confront this problem which is plaguing our education system.
One of the arguments put forward by our CEO is the following: in the same way that for several years students have been allowed to use a calculator in class, why not also give them the possibility of using correction software? during the French tests?
As far as I know, the calculator is used in science lessons not to find out how much is 2 + 2, but rather to perform complex operations, while the correction software on its side would mainly function, unfortunately, to correct mistakes in French that college or university students should no longer make.
It is not normal, for example, to find oneself in CEGEP facing students who do not yet differentiate between the words “these”, “his” and “c’est”, which confuse the pronoun “on” with the verb “have” or the “a” with “to”! And there, I still haven’t said anything about syntax or even punctuation. So, when I was teaching, I often found myself in front of sentences that lacked the full stop and then the capital letter at the beginning of what I guessed to be a new sentence. And the vocabulary of young CEGEP students is, it must be said, anemic. But what amazes me even more is that they have not acquired this essential habit of looking for unknown words in a dictionary or, at the limit, using their smartphone, who ‘they have yet at hand.
For a national chore
The Minister of Higher Education, Mme Danielle McCann, has just announced that she will invest millions so that CEGEP students improve their learning of French. Big deal ! For years now, using plasters, bandages and poultices, CEGEPs have been offering students who have difficulties in French, and therefore in their studies in general, to meet individual teaching aids, advisers in adapted services or in guidance, technicians in practical work, while providing them with help centers in French, philosophy, human sciences or other disciplines, as well as a peer tutoring service; not to mention the Tremplin DEC program for those who do not have the prerequisites to be accepted into CEGEP.
Of course, these measures stem from good intentions. Of course they appeal to parents and reassure them while giving a good image to the colleges that offer them and above all a good conscience to the directors as well as to the ministers who follow one another. But all of these beautiful attentions and piecemeal measures are coming far too late.
In fact, if the improvement in the graduation rate at CEGEP, as well as, I hope, the intellectual development of all these young students are really close to the heart of the President and CEO of the Fédération des cégeps as well as of the Minister of Higher Education, I implore them to look ahead and work with Jean-François Roberge, the Minister of Education, to ensure that the students finally succeed and in a rigorous manner in mastering “The brilliant flower of fire which creates art” of which Aeschylus tells us in his Prometheus in Chains. By ensuring that they learn to read well, write, understand texts and enjoy reading, our education system will bring out that spark that has the potential to ignite everything else in their eyes.
But be warned, it won’t happen with a wave of a magic wand or sprinkle millions to fix what never worked well anyway. It is a real chore spread over at least ten years that our education system and society in general should tackle to seriously and sustainably improve, from primary level to higher degrees, fluency in French among young and old alike as well as in the general population.
Do we have the courage as a society to project ourselves so far into the future to correct this evil that affects us? I don’t have the answer to that question, but when I look at what’s going on in our education system right now, let’s say I’m pretty pessimistic.