10/12/2012 09:56 EDT | Updated 12/12/2012 05:12 EST

PQ wants to trim English classes, boost sovereignty studies

Quebec's education minister is rejecting accusations she's trying to politicize the province's school system with her plan to cut back English classes and augment studies on the history of the sovereignty movement.

Under the previous government, intensive English in Grade 6 was marked as a priority and the program was supposed to be fully in place by 2015.

Parti Québécois Education Minister Marie Malavoy says she wants to hold off on that plan because of staffing issues and concerns about the impact on students with learning difficulties.

"Some students, they learn more slowly, they have difficulties in the classroom, and are they able to be in the same intensive classroom? I'm not sure," she said.

The PQ government also wants to get rid of mandatory English classes in Grades 1 and 2, and tweak the high school history curriculum to add more on the sovereignty debate.

The idea, Malavoy said, is to better equip students with an understanding of how nationalism has shaped the province's history.

"In Quebec, when we want to understand our history, know where we come from, understand what is going on today, we need to discuss the national question," she said.

"If you see what is happening in Quebec today, you really know that what's happened for the 50 last years as a big influence on how we think, our relations with the rest of Canada, what's our question about our identity.

"So, [we want to] give the students the possibility to make their own choices, but just understand that it's a question that is still part of our present."

The five-month intensive English program was introduced by the Liberal government and launched in 2003. The program has proved popular with many Quebecers.

Intensive English in Grade 6 is being gradually expanded to all public schools. Malavoy said the idea isn't to cancel the program, but rather slow down that rollout.

Opposition calls plan shortsighted

The PQ plans drew rapid criticism from Quebec's opposition parties.

They said the plan to shift focus from English instruction is shortsighted and represents a political takeover of the school system.

"Everybody wants to keep the French language. They know that we won't disappear, but they want to give their children the ability to talk to the world," said Jean-Marc Fournier, interim Liberal leader.

Gérard Deltell of the Coalition Avenir Quebec accused the PQ and the education minister of using the school system to put sovereignty on the agenda. He said there are other ways to more fully augment the teaching of history in secondary schools.

"It's like using a political tool in our schools for children and that's the worst thing you can do in school – seeing politicians using their political agenda in the school," he said.

He also criticized Malavoy's classification of English as a "foreign language," saying anglophone Quebecers are ingrained in the province's history.

The education minister said there's no definitive plan to amend the curriculum and any changes that are adopted wouldn’t be implemented until next school year at the earliest.

"We want to take our time to see what's going on and make an [update] on how things are going," she said.