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Quebec Education Minister Marie Malavoy says the teaching of Quebec history should be improved, especially on the subjects of nationalism, the debate over sovereignty and the province’s place within Canada.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois wants to downscale a program aimed at boosting the instruction of English as a second language in elementary schools, and to increase teaching about Quebec history and nationalism.

The opposition immediately accused the PQ of showing intolerance towards the teaching of English and said it is out to indoctrinate Quebec students politically.

Education Minister Marie Malavoy said in a telephone interview that she is not opposed to teaching English as a second language. She said first-grade children will continue to learn it under the current curriculum. But she added that the program needs to be closely monitored to make sure it doesn't impede the teaching of French to young children.

However, Ms. Malavoy said she does not think the resources will be available to proceed in 2015 with the former Liberal government's plan for intensive English-language courses starting in Grade 6 at all elementary schools. Ms. Malavoy suggested a more gradual approach may be needed.

"We are in favour of the teaching of English as a second language. And we aren't opposed to extensive classroom instruction. But, before we can proceed in 2015 in all the schools, we need to examine if we have the resources and if we can respond to the needs of students with learning disabilities," Ms. Malavoy said.

The Education Minister also said the teaching of Quebec history should be improved, especially on the subjects of nationalism, the debate over sovereignty and the province's place within Canada.

"There are all kinds of schools of thought such as capitalism, feminism, and all of them are part of the curriculum. There is also a school of thought called nationalism. And I think we have to give a special place to the debate that has taken place here in Quebec over the last 50 years," Ms. Malavoy said. "We are not here to tell people how to think. … It has to be done by respecting all opinions."

The opposition accused the PQ government of "politically hijacking" the province's schools and of wanting to treat English as a foreign language.

A media interview in which Ms. Malavoy referred to English as a foreign language recently created an uproar with opposition parties. Liberal interim leader Jean-Marc Fournier called the PQ a "party of division and radicalism," and said its sovereignty "demons" will now find their way into Quebec classrooms.

"This means less English and more sovereignty," Mr. Fournier said. "She [Ms. Malavoy] has indicated that she wants to politicize education of our children and slow down the teaching of English."

Mr. Fournier also condemned the PQ for insisting that French is threatened, especially in Montreal, and that special efforts are needed to preserve it.

"To continuously plead that francophones will disappear is just another way to create energy to boost support for separation," Mr. Fournier said, adding that the PQ is penalizing Quebec's youth and showing intolerance towards the anglophone community.

The Coalition Avenir Québec education critic Gérard Deltell agreed, adding that reducing the time allotted to teaching English as a second language in elementary schools is a step backward.

"When she used the term 'foreign language,' it was a real sad situation," Mr. Deltell said. "In my riding in Quebec City, some anglophones have been there for seven generations … They are anything but foreigners. When Ms. Malavoy uses the term 'foreign language,' well, that's all wrong."