The École branchée Meetings: Interview with Maryse Lassonde, President of the Higher Education Council

Maryse Lassonde is president of the Higher Education Council. In this interview, she talks about her professional career and the work of her organization, but also the challenges that await the school community in the coming year, the integration of digital technology in schools and the changes caused by the pandemic.

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The École branchée presents a series of interviews with well-known and lesser-known actors in the world of education. Each in their own way, in the shadows (or not), they play a role in the educational and digital ecosystem. We have decided to introduce them to you by asking them a few questions.

For this first interview, we met Maryse Lassonde, president of the Higher Education Council (CSE).

L'École branchée: In a few sentences, how do you describe CSE?

Mrs Maryse Lassonde

Maryse Lassonde: The CSE was created by the Government of Quebec at the same time as the provincial Ministry of Education. It was an idea of Paul Gérin-Lajoie who wanted to give a voice to representatives of civil society so that they could guide the MEQ in its decisions. It is a way of keeping democracy alive in education.

The CSE now has around 40 employees and 110 members who sit on committees and commissions. These members, appointed by the Council of Ministers, offer a good representation of Quebec's diversity. They allow the CSE to deliver opinions to the Minister of Education which are based on science, but which are also colored by the reality on the ground and common exchanges.

ÉB: For our readers who want to know more about you, how do you present yourself? What is your background?

Maryse Lassonde: I worked for about 35 years in academia, as a professor of neuropsychology. I have always given of my time to promote the recognition of science in our society, especially with ACFAS. In 2012, I was appointed scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologies. I was also president of the Royal Society of Canada. Finally, since 2018, I have been president of the CSE. I plan to retire during the next summer.

ÉB: Since you took office as president, it seems that we hear more often about the CSE in the public square. Is this a goal that you have set for yourself?

Maryse Lassonde: Personally, I find the CSE to be an organization that deserves to be even better known. I make myself the proud spokesperson. On the other hand, I must say that my arrival in post also coincided with the entry into office of Jean-François Roberge as Minister of Education. Mr. Roberge specifically made a request for the CSE to be more visible and better known, in order to further demonstrate its contribution to the education community, and at the same time, the role of members. Particular attention is paid to the role that the CSE can bring to the level of higher education, as this has not been really emphasized over the years.

In addition, the CSE should no longer be seen as only useful for the Ministry of Education. Our opinions are addressed more and more to several ministries, which increases the notoriety and the reach of the CSE. For example, we have posted reviews on integration of immigrant families and on the child welfare. These are subjects that directly affect other departments.

ÉB: What achievement are you most proud of so far?

Maryse Lassonde: What a great question! Overall, I would say that I really appreciate the dynamics within the CSE. We are open and open to dialogue. We bring proposals to change the vision of education.

But, if I absolutely have to choose a CSE production, I will say that it is the Thesis on academic freedom in higher education, submitted in June 2021. Being an academic myself, this subject touches me a lot. In addition, this brief reflects the thinking of the CSE really well. We say censorship is not acceptable. We also emphasize the importance of pedagogical contextualization, faculty support for adapting practices and promoting the values of equity, diversity and inclusion in order to create a calm climate conducive to educational success. Academic freedom is experienced both at the individual and institutional level.

ÉB: What will be the challenges of the next school year according to you?

Maryse Lassonde: In my opinion, the same challenges that were present before the pandemic are still present in education. The pandemic only exacerbated them. Here, I am thinking mainly of the challenges of equity for students, in terms of access to various services, but also access to digital technology. We have been immersed in a digital world, but that does not mean that the challenges in terms of skills acquisition no longer exist. Inequalities remain very real.

Mental health issues were already present before the pandemic, but it has multiplied them disproportionately. We will have a long time to recover collectively. There will have to be systemic approaches.

Another challenge, more administrative this one, is the organization and governance of the school network. A balance must be found between decisions taken centrally in government and local self-government. The government drives the system, but wall-to-wall decisions are not necessarily adequate. Service centers and school boards know their local needs better than anyone. 

EB: What has the pandemic changed (in a sustainable way)? 

Maryse Lassonde: The pandemic has proven that the school system is capable of a lot of flexibility and resilience. The whole system was able to adjust to the situation fairly quickly. This flexibility must remain.

In addition, I would like the service centers and school boards to maintain their ability to offer distance education. This must be maintained in the services offered. We must not forget that education is a right and an essential service. Any pupil or student should have access to it wherever they are and whatever their condition.

ÉB: Regarding the integration of digital technology in schools, your last opinion was quite clear and underlined the urgency to act. What ingredient do you think is missing to go further in this integration?

Maryse Lassonde: We must stop dwelling on the technological tools themselves. They are not gimmicks. Teachers must be encouraged to make them their own in a teaching context. They must learn to use them for educational purposes, both for learning and for assessment. Moreover, I would like a project to see the light of day within the CSE on the theme of evaluation with digital technology. How can we assess otherwise?

ÉB: Exactly, in closing, what are the CSE committees working on at the moment? What themes will the next opinions focus on?

Maryse Lassonde: In addition to notices, we also publish regulatory briefs and notices. Here is the list of our main committees and commissions as well as the themes they are working on at the moment:

  • Committee on the State and Needs of Education: Getting back to normal? The education system during and after the COVID-19 pandemic (release December 2021)
  • College Teaching and Research Commission: The new training needs of students (publication early 2022)
  • Inter-order committee for the next generation of students: The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the transition between high school and CEGEP (publication summer 2022)
  • Commission on University Teaching and Research: University research: successes, issues, social responsibility and challenges (publication fall 2022)
  • Committee on Adult Education and Continuing Education: Evaluate the relevance of a qualifications framework based on the particularities of adult education and continuing education and the Quebec context (publication fall 2022)
  • Commission for Preschool and Primary Education: The primary school of tomorrow: an innovative and ecosystem-based vision (start of work)
  • Secondary Education Commission: Encourage commitment and curiosity through the diversity and flexibility of the courses: take into account the students' point of view and experience (start of work).

Biography :

Maryse Lassonde obtained a Ph.D. in neuropsychology at Stanford University (California) in 1977. She was a professor at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières from 1977 to 1988 then at the University of Montreal from 1988 to 2012, where she became professor emeritus in 2013. Her research has focused on various themes including cognitive disorders associated with childhood epilepsy and the effects of concussions in sport. In addition, she has edited 7 books, authored over 300 scientific articles or chapters and received several honors and awards. So she is fellow from the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and the Royal Society of Canada. She is also an Officer of the Order of Canada and Chevalière de l'Ordre national du Québec, of which she chaired the Council from 2008 to 2010.

Ms. Lassonde was president of the Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS) in 1993. She also held a senior Canada research chair in developmental neuropsychology (2001-2013) and was president of the Royal Society of Canada (2015). -2017). Finally, she was scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologies from January 2012 to July 2018 and is currently president of the Quebec Superior Council of Education.

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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