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The educational El Dorado (part 1)

It only takes a few minutes of immersion in French school culture to understand why French teachers are so “pedagogically” fond of their Quebec colleagues.

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In my first text in this series, published at the start of my stay at the University of Nice, I wondered why French teachers are so “pedagogically” fond of their Quebec colleagues. In contact with them, I quickly understood what explains this phenomenon! Indeed, it only takes a few minutes of immersion in the school culture to understand ...

For the French, Quebec has always been the new world, and has been for almost half a century! Today, for them, Quebec is in a way an “educational eldorado”, that is to say a territory where everything works wonderfully pedagogically and where teachers have great freedom of professional action. Obviously, as in any situation, we tend to believe that the grass is always greener in our cousins, but nevertheless, the watered-down vision that several French education professionals have of their Quebec colleagues will have made me think. and allows me to draw some conclusions following my trip to the land of our ancestors.

A decentralized system

Initially, the Quebec school system is relatively decentralized. I remember the first time I read an OECD text[1] which described Quebec as a decentralized school system. I found it very funny! I mistakenly believed that Quebec education was very politicized and centralized. You have to immerse yourself in another school culture, like that of France, to realize that in fact, our system is not as centralized as you think! For its part, the French system is not only highly centralized and politicized, it is also very hierarchical. To use the French-speaking jargon valid as much in Quebec as in France, decisions are imposed there "top-down" or "from above", namely that it is the decision-makers who make the decisions and who impose them on the government. rest of the system. From what I understand, this is more of a cultural fact and not something specific to the education system.

During various discussions held at odds with teachers, I was able to make the following observation: as soon as they become permanent in the profession, they proudly call themselves “civil servants”. There is therefore pride in being at the service of the population under the aegis of the State. Not that this is not the case in Quebec, but it must be admitted that, even if the benefits associated with tenure are similar and the pride in exercising the profession is comparable, the fact remains that 'it is rare for Quebec teachers to advertise themselves as civil servants ...

Professional autonomy of teachers

Indeed, in France, decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of representatives of National Education, that is, the ruling class of the Academies. Obviously, the representative par excellence of this school hierarchy is the Inspector of National Education. The latter is hard at work in the field and strives to link the rectorate and teachers within the same bosom, always as worthy representatives of French National Education. In Quebec, there are school boards and their senior managers, but no one is advertised as the representative of the Ministry of Education in our schools! There are no inspectors either. The question that was asked to me, you can guess it, is the following: "... and who ensures the quality of education in the classrooms as well as the respect of the teaching programs"? It's hard to avoid answering this question without addressing the notion of professional autonomy of Quebec teachers! It is exactly by broaching this subject with foreigners who practice the same profession that we realize that Quebec teachers enjoy the confidence of decision-makers and that they have very little accountability to them!


That said, I had the incredible chance to present some Quebec educational innovations that are of great interest to French teachers, particularly (but not exclusively) those concerning digital manufacturing workshops, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and the use digital tools in 1: 1 mode.

When I presented what teachers in our school do, as well as what other teachers do in both elementary and secondary schools, my mouths were wide open. The facial expressions of my audience were frozen to such an extent that during my first speech, I paused:

  • " Is everything alright? "

A few brave people comforted me:

  • " Yes, I am fine. It's just very far from our reality! "

Another adds with a hint of sarcasm:

  • " Yes, it's true! We always fight for pencils in my school! "

I corrected the shot:

  • "Let us understand each other well. In Quebec, too, the issue of funding our schools is an issue, but that's not what I'm talking about! I'm talking about the school trends that North America is adopting. So it is not fair in Quebec. We are certainly in turmoil, but English Canada and the United States too. What I am presenting to you today is what will be with you faster than you might think! In Quebec, in a way, we were taken by surprise in a few respects and we are still struggling to adapt to the change dictated by society and new scientific breakthroughs! I tell you, it will hit you hard. "

The educational El Dorado from Quebec had just gone from pink to gray while envy and excitement gave way to some concerns and apprehensions ...

[1] OECD (2015), Education Policy Outlook 2015: Reforms on the Move, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264227330-fr


This article is part of a series published by our author and collaborator Marc-André Girard, as part of his participation in the Laboratory of innovation and digital in education (LINE) at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis.

You can read all the articles in this series here.

About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in social studies education (1999), a master's degree in history education (2003), a master's degree in education management (2013) and a doctorate in education (2022). He specializes in school-based change management and educational leadership. He is also interested in the 21st century competencies to be developed in education. He is a principal in a public high school and gives conferences on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in schools and the professionalization of teaching. He has participated in educational expeditions in France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book "Le changement en milieu scolaire québécois" with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the 21st century school with the same publisher. He is a frequent contributor to L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and principals as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement. He is a recipient of the Régent-Fortin 2022 scholarship awarded by ADERAE for the significant contribution of his doctoral studies to the development of practice and knowledge in educational administration.

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