Monday, January 5, 2009

Should French Be A Mandatory Course?

I live in Ontario, and in this province most students are required to take one French credit during their high school years. That wasn’t the case when I was going to school. French was strictly optional at the secondary school level when I was a teenager. I would have gladly taken a pass, but my father, (God bless him) insisted I take at least one French course in grade 9, after that I was told, the choice would be mine. I say ‘thank God’ because I actually managed to pick up the language very well and have even been able to find employment based on my, (less than perfect) ability to speak French.

But I view myself as the exception, not the rule. Most students who learn French in school, (even if they take it all the way through) just a few short years after graduation all they often remember is ‘ca va’ and ‘ca va bien’. Are we really providing a service to our students by forcing them to learn something that will have little or no application in their daily lives? Sure its nice to be able to travel to Quebec and ask people how they’re doing, and be able to answer back ‘I’m fine’. But does it really require a mandatory credit in our educational system?

Given the technological nature of the world we live in, wouldn’t it be of greater benefit to be teaching a programming language instead? Are we really providing a service to students by loading them down with skills that will have little application in our digital age? I’m not talking about removing French from the curriculum entirely, merely about having it as a mandatory subject. In Ontario parents can enroll their children in French Immersion schools where they’re able to become fluently bilingual. Forcing students to take a high school credit in French strikes me as overkill.

Some view education as a means to an end, believing our school system should focus on areas which will translate into marketable skills in the work force. Others think education is a means in of itself, and that teaching Liberal Arts is essential to develop citizens capable of critical thought. Surely both points of view have merit, but I don’t think our educational system is doing enough to give our youth the knowledge they’re going to need in our competitive world.

With limited resources educators need to do both. Wouldn’t it be nice to see every classroom desk fitted with an up to date computer? Perhaps we can get there, but it will be hard if we continue to focus on courses and programs which bring few benefits to students. French is a wonderful language, and for those able to master it there are many benefits. But why not make it strictly an elective, leaving students and their parents to decide if they wish to pursue it or study something else.

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