Nearly 7.5 million people live in Québec, a large continental peninsula with an area (1.7 million km2) three times the size of France or five times the size of Japan. A large part of Québec is covered by the northern boreal forest and dotted with thousands of lakes and rivers. The St. Lawrence River, one of the world's largest waterways and the most important in North America, runs across Québec from west to east. Approximately 80 per cent of Québec’s population lives in the St. Lawrence valley. Almost half of all Quebeckers reside in Montréal and the Greater Montréal region, and 700 000 people live in and around the province’s capital, Québec City. Both cities are located along the St. Lawrence River.
The People of Québec
First inhabited by Aboriginal peoples, Québec has seen successive waves of immigration from France, the British Isles, and more recently from an increasingly large number of other countries. Some 38 000 new immigrants from more than 150 different countries settle in Québec annually, mainly in the Montréal region, accounting for approximately 18.4 per cent of Québec’s population.
French is the official language in Québec. For 83.1 per cent of the population, French is the language most spoken at home, while 10.5 per cent speak English and 6.5 per cent speak another language. Some 40.8 per cent of the population speaks both English and French. Most of the Aboriginal nations receive instruction in their own language.
Québec is one of the 13 members of the Canadian federation, a British-style constitutional monarchy. Under the 1867 Canadian Constitution, Québec, along with the other Canadian provinces and territories, has the exclusive right to make its own laws in matters of education.
There is no ministry responsible for education at the federal level; ministries of education exist only at the provincial and territorial levels. In Québec, the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport is the government body responsible for promoting access to all forms of education for all those who have the desire and ability to be educated. It also endeavours to coordinate the orientations and activities of the education community with government policies in general and with the economic, social and cultural needs of Québec society. Québec’s education system is based on a sharing of responsibilities by the government, universities, colleges, school boards and schools.
In most educational institutions in Québec, French is the language of instruction. Under the Charter of the French Language, instruction is to be given in French at the preschool, elementary and secondary levels. However, some students who meet specific requirements of the Charter may receive their schooling in English. These students account for approximately 11.2 per cent of the total enrollment in Québec’s elementary and secondary schools. As for college and university students, they can enroll in either English- or French language institutions.