The credibility of Québec’s teacher-training programs is being tested as a fight resists Education Minister Jean-François Roberge and a panel of experts denouncing political interference aimed at training teachers at full speed to fill school staff shortages.
Minister Roberge has approved four short-term teacher training programs in recent months without waiting for the opinion of a committee of experts – or in one case against the negative opinion of that committee. Mr. Roberge justified these decisions with the urgency to act to prevent classes from being left without teachers.
As part of this, last June the minister ended the mandate of the chairman of the Accreditation Committee for Teacher Education Programs (CAPFE), Marc-André Éthier, a professor at the Faculty of Education at the University of Montreal.
This showdown between the minister and a group of experts sparked heated debates in the teaching community, who feared future teachers were being “inadequately” trained. A prominent member of CAPFE, Professor Jean Bernatchez from the University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR), has therefore decided not to renew his mandate on the committee from August 22nd.
According to Le Devoir’s findings, if they do not receive convincing explanations from Minister Roberge, other members will consider leaving. The committee suspended its work in June due to the tense climate with the education minister.
“We are a little stunned by this whole story,” summarizes Liliane Binggeli, Vice President of CAPFE. In a letter dated 4 August to Minister Roberge, she denounced “an already lengthy list of decisions that undermine CAPFE’s credibility, damage its work and slow down university projects to develop and improve teacher training”.
Ms Binggeli argues that the committee “carries out its work in a strict, conscientious, impartial manner and with the sole concern of ensuring that all accredited programs are of high quality, which is an essential requirement for the advancement of the teaching profession”.
For these reasons, in February 2021, CAPFE issued a negative opinion on the establishment of a qualifying master’s degree in pre-primary and elementary education at the University of Montreal. The program was considered valid, but the CAPFE had identified deficiencies that needed to be addressed.
Minister Roberge nevertheless approved the 60-credit program – equivalent to half a four-year bachelor’s degree in education – citing teacher shortages.
We have a teacher shortage here! We do not live in the theoretical world. In the real world we need qualified teachers in our classrooms and I look to our universities to qualify them. I trust our university network.
He also asked UdeM to adjust the program to address CAPFE’s concerns. “We said: well, let’s recognize it as qualifying education by imposing an obligation on the university to make the necessary corrections,” argued Minister Roberge in an interview with Le Devoir at the end of June.
“We have a teacher shortage there! We do not live in the theoretical world. In the real world we need qualified teachers in our classrooms and I look to our universities to qualify them. I trust our university network. We want people who have at least a bachelor’s degree and are enrolling in postgraduate studies. It’s not just anything: we’re talking about a Masters in Education. The vast majority of teachers will still go through the four-year baccalaureate, but multiplying pathways without lowering requirements seems to me to be something to welcome in times of shortages,” he said. he adds.
Similarly, earlier this year, without even waiting for the CAPFE, the Minister of Education approved the launch of qualifying master’s degrees in teaching at TELUQ and the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT).
“As long as what we do is not considered, if our critical and analytical view is not required, we will do something else elsewhere. It is very demobilizing for people who volunteer,” Le Devoir confides in Professor Jean Bernatchez, who has resigned from the CAPFE.
The deans of teacher education are also concerned about tensions surrounding the CAPFE, which they say “damages the credibility of the process” of accrediting teacher training programs. “It’s legal [d’ignorer les recommandations du CAPFE]but this is the first time a minister has done so since the creation of CAPFE in 1992,” said Jean Bélanger, President of the Association of Deans, Deans and Directors, Directors for Study and Research in Education at the Quebec (ADEREQ) .
“We are deeply concerned about the current situation because the accreditation process is an important basis to ensure the quality of current and future programs as well as their credibility both in the community and in the population,” he wrote in a July 5 letter addressed to Minister Roberge. Deans are calling for a meeting with the minister to resolve the impasse.
Jean Bélanger considers the independent work of the CAPFE to be “necessary”, even if the deans of the pedagogical faculties sometimes find it “annoying” to make the corrections requested by the expert group.
CAPFE vice-president Liliane Binggeli calls for the reinstatement of Marc-André Éthier as committee chair because of the “quality of his work” and his desire to continue. It also obtains two legal opinions from the Minister of Education, in particular on the members’ terms of office.
“The process of renewing the presidency of CAPFE is underway,” said Audrey Noiseux, spokeswoman for the Minister for Education.
Mr Roberge said he could not renew the mandate of Mr Éthier, who joined CAPFE in 2018, but the committee’s experts found the example of a former member, André Dolbec, who served at CAPFE for seven years, including six years as President ( two three-year terms).