Attention: Mr. Bill Hogan, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development
Subject: French Language Education in New Brunswick
I had the opportunity to attend your consultation session on the proposed French second-language framework. As a father of two with one child in the current Immersion program and another beginning kindergarten next year, our family is among those that will be impacted the most by these changes.
It was clear from the beginning that you were not prepared for the public’s response to this consultation. We began nearly an hour late to allow the hotel time to remove a wall and set up more tables to accommodate everybody that attended. Even then, there were still attendees left standing. We were told that our input would be reduced because of the late start and number of people in attendance, but the attendees refused to have their concerns remain unaddressed, forcing a change in format from a world café format to an open mic discussion, as should have been planned in the beginning.
I want to thank the teachers, families, and concerned citizens who took the time to come out and share their stories. It took a lot of courage for these people to speak openly about their struggles and to address their concerns with the upcoming program. Seeing educators and parents in tears, knowing the impact this will have on our children, was soul-crushing.
This consultation was meant to define what the new program would look like, but it quickly became a discussion over whether this program should go ahead at all, with the resounding sentiment being that it should not continue. Aside from your deputy minister and yourself, not a single person stood up in support of your proposed change.
So why are so many people upset at this upcoming change? It all comes down to data, and we all know your government’s opinion on data. The most significant factors to successfully learning a new language are having earlier access to second language training and including as much training in that language during the day as possible. The government itself has stated this, which is why the entry point for French Immersion was moved to grade 1. If the goal is better proficiency in French, why are we lowering the amount of French our children are exposed to?
I have spoken with educators about how this will also impact children in the English Prime program. Not all children have the desire to learn French. These children may become frustrated given the volume of French content they must undertake, which could lead to more apathy towards their overall education. Students who require EAs will especially struggle if they don’t have access to EAs that can assist in French language learning.
Currently, children in kindergarten and grade 1 receive 66% of their interactional class time in literacy and math, two courses that we have been told will be taught entirely in English under this new program. Assuming that art, music, and physical education are all taught in French, students will receive at least 24% less math and literacy education than they currently do throughout elementary school. This will have a disastrous impact on students, especially those struggling in these areas.
The government has repeatedly said that this move also aims to eliminate the elitist divide in the education system. Currently, any child can enter French Immersion in the schools where it is offered. What most families can’t do is afford to put their children in private schools that provide better French language access. The elitism you look to remove will be greater than ever as families with the means to do so remove their youth from the public school system in favour of private schools that focus on French language education. If there is an issue with the English Prime program, the answer is not to dismantle the French Immersion program but to improve the English Prime program accordingly. This can be done by recruiting and hiring more occupational therapists, speech pathologists, educational assistants, and behavioural interventionists, and by establishing more full-time classroom teachers in Prime classrooms.
A widespread criticism of the delivery of French Immersion has been that not all schools can offer this program. Surely, if we can find enough teachers to offer 50% French education to all students, then we can find enough to offer Immersion in every school in the province. It should be up to families to decide if Immersion is suitable for their child or if the Prime program offers an adequate level of French language education.
New Brunswick is a unique province, proudly the only bilingual province in the country. It is ridiculous to think that we could soon be the only province in the country to not offer a French Immersion program. It is embarrassing to think that students from a bilingual province will be at a disadvantage compared to those from every other province when it comes to applying for post-secondary education and employment in their own province.
Mr. Hogan, I ask that you reconsider this change for the well-being of our educators, our students, and our province. The stakeholders of our province are not interested in this model. In the future, I also ask that you consider holding consultations with stakeholders before deciding on a change, not after.
Board of Directors President, People’s Alliance of New Brunswick