Although like most cities worldwide, the city of Montreal does not have any powers in the education sector, it does run or promote a very wide range of activities aimed at school pupils from primary to senior secondary level.
Cultural diversity is a reality in Montreal schools – to such an extent that some studies by school boards show that one or both parents of approximately 60% of primary and secondary school pupils were born abroad (2016). This diversity is also reflected in the teaching community, as the staff of Montreal School Board (CSDM) – one of the main employers in the metropolitan region with some 16 350 regular and non-regular employees – stand out for their cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. The Montreal School Board makes it clear – including on its website – that it wants schools to be places where all pupils become aware of diversity and prepare themselves for living in a pluralist society by acquiring the skills that enable them to appreciate the great opportunities of that diversity while recognising the challenges so as to overcome them more successfully.
Montreal has 113 700 school pupils in 196 schools, some of which specialise in catering for and teaching pupils with disabilities and pupils with adjustment or learning difficulties.
Through co-operation with schools and financial support for bodies and players from the social sector in their respective activities in the education sector, the city carries out activities aimed at encouraging parent involvement, intercultural mediation, advocating respect for and valuing of cultural diversity, and teaching intercultural dialogue.
For example, the Montreal History Centre, a city-run body, conducts various major intercultural projects in co-operation with schools, in particular:
- “You’re part of the story” is an educational programme conducted under the agreement between the city of Montreal and the Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion aimed at secondary school reception classes. It aims to build bridges between the past of pupils who have recently arrived from the four corners of the world and their new lives in the host country through the telling of personal stories and recording of personal “treasures” which the pupils share with Montrealers through the museum. The programme fosters learning of the host country’s languages, as well as self-esteem and interaction between the new pupils and other citizens.
- The exhibition, “Here I am in Montreal”, is a project aimed at young people newly arrived in Montreal in which they are asked to present their take on the city through their respective cultural and personal backgrounds.
- The travelling exhibition, “Windows onto immigration”, showcases the personal stories and accounts of Montrealers with migration backgrounds who confide in visitors and share their impressions, their doubts and their difficulties, as well as successes in their integration processes. Their assembled stories reveal a changing, multifaceted city that evolves at the rhythm of successive communities and generations.
In addition, the History Centre periodically arranges dynamic visits designed specifically for starter-level reception classes.
Other bodies and partners of the city also carry out activities in the education sector, aimed in particular at primary and secondary schools. Intercultural projects on valuing diversity, on immigration and on topical issues are implemented with arts bodies and cultural centres as part of cultural mediation initiatives. Projects of this type are targeted more particularly at certain especially multi-ethnic neighbourhoods such as Côte-des-Neiges, Parc-Extension, Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Montréal-Nord.
Some intercultural projects are also carried out in the leisure sector as extracurricular activities. The most outstanding here include the podcast project, “Because we come from afar”. This is a project for and by young people aged 18 to 30 from the Saint-Michel neighbourhood, the aim of which is to provide training for these future cultural content creators. The relevant workshops are led by professionals and mentors from the community sector, business and various artistic disciplines. The project seeks to give a voice to young people who are far removed from the traditional media so that they can maximise their creative potential.
Other projects also worth mentioning include:
- The Spotlight on Our Local Talent project, funded by the Office for the Integration of Newcomers in Montreal (BINAM), helps 10 to 12 young diversity ambassadors conduct an awareness-raising campaign among employers in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood. These young people – who have been trained by experts in employability and diversity management – are responsible for raising employers’ awareness about the positive contribution of young people, people with recent migration backgrounds and ethnocultural minorities. The awareness-raising campaign is also supplemented with media activities in which multimedia-savvy creative young people join forces with videography professionals and produce thematic video clips for distribution on social networks and among employers.
- The “Young ambassadors against prejudice” project aims to alert pupils from primary and secondary schools in the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension to the importance of combating discrimination and valuing diversity, in schools and in local neighbourhoods.
Lastly, in terms of parent involvement in school life, the “Roots to grow” project run by the History Centre in co-operation with the UEMPT programme fosters both intergenerational and intercultural dialogue in that it focuses on the life stories of families who may have been Montrealers for two generations or more or may also come from very different places elsewhere in Quebec or Canada or around the world. It covers pupils, their parents, their grandparents and their great grandparents and enables pupils to learn more about their own roots, as well as those of the other pupils in their class and the history of the city they are growing up in.
In addition, for five years now, the non-profit body, Vision Diversité, has been supporting Marguerite-Bourgeoys Schools Board’s whole network of 95 schools in addressing a major challenge in its strategic planning in terms of equipping children and young people to live and grow up together through arts and culture under an intercultural approach.
 The support programme, “A Montreal school for everybody” (UEMPT), set up by the Education Ministry is aimed at educational success and retention for all Montreal pupils faced with disadvantagement-related issues, in particular in multi-ethnic contexts. It targets the success factors of literacy, numeracy and academic commitment. Several of the relevant projects are cultural in nature and are carried out in co-operation with city departments.