Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education and Higher Education, spoke at the Chamber on February 15, becoming the third member of the new Legault government to speak to the Montréal business community since the premier took office. Interestingly, according to his colleagues Eric Girard (Finance) and Nathalie Roy (Culture and Communications), who visited the Chamber before him, Mr. Roberge is the current cabinet’s key minister because of the role of education as the main pillar of the government’s thought and action. More than 600 people gathered to listen to him in the context of the 2019 Hooked on School Days.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Minister Roberge reached out to education sector stakeholders and observers by inviting them to face the challenges of our century with his government.
Here are three highlights from his speech.
Owning his ambitions for education
Minister Roberge has repeatedly pointed to his government’s ambitious plan for education. According to him, his predecessors too often defended “old and outdated” ways of doing things. Instead, he wants to look towards the future and make changes that will replace hope with pride when it comes to education.
The former teacher wants to take concrete measures. According to him, many speeches made in the past did not get translated into real action or budgets.
He took advantage of his platform to illustrate some of his priorities. First, he promised that the next education budget will be substantial. In other words, it will be well over the rate of inflation and the costs of the system, despite the reduction in revenues from the school tax.
He reiterated his commitment to increase the number of extracurricular sports, artistic and cultural activities. In addition, he reaffirmed his decision to make two daily 20-minute recesses mandatory in elementary schools.
Finally, he outlined his government’s flagship promise for education: kindergarten for four-year-olds. Minister Roberge indicated that a total of 250 classes will be added to the province by September 2019, bringing their number to 644. These are the kind of bold decisions his government intends to make while it is in power, he said.
The physical condition of schools, an “embarrassing” legacy
The physical condition of educational institutions continually appears in the news. According to Minister Roberge, the previous government’s record on this issue is “a little embarrassing.” He promises that his government will take action on this issue.
The ministry’s goal is to streamline administrative processes to renovate, improve and build schools. Architectural competitions will be held to beautify schools and create stimulating environments.
According to Roberge, member for Chambly since 2014, critics will no doubt find the government ambitious, but that will not prevent it from moving forward with all its projects.
Keeping an eye on employment and training talent
Labour issues are a growing concern for the business community. The government is listening, says Minister Roberge, who is following the issue of job obsolescence and wants to give affected employees tools for retraining. According to him, the problem is bigger than we think and must quickly become a priority.
The university community is also being examined by the Minister, who wants to increase the profile of Quebec universities and the number of foreign students studying in Quebec. Mr. Roberge sees the province’s universities as incubators for talent from around the world. He is very proud of their openness to the world and their contribution to Quebec society.