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
People are suffering. People are going hungry, or cold, or both. With prices and inflation near historical highs, no relief exists. NB housing costs are seeing some of the most rapid increases in the country, and the costs of heating our homes has outstripped the ability of many to pay – there’s just nothing left.
Food banks are reporting substantial increases in use with significant decreases in donations. Many who were once frequent donors have become users themselves. People are choosing between heat and food, between shelter and food. Some experts anticipate as much as a 60% increase in people needing the assistance of food banks over the winter months.
NB has a significant surplus. While financial responsibility is one thing, no government should be sitting on large surpluses while people go hungry.
We call on the Premier to immediately address this crisis in food security by meeting with the provinces’ food banks and assuring them that they will have the resources necessary to meet the needs of clients throughout the winter months.
This program should be put in place as soon as possible and remain in place through at minimum, April 30th.
Let no NB citizen in need go hungry.
On behalf of Rick DeSaulniers
and the People’s Alliance Team.
While we applaud the appointment of Minister Kris Austin to the committee reviewing the Official Languages Act as offering an additional viewpoint; we strongly disagree with Premier Higgs’ suggestion that this negates the need for the People’s Alliance.
If anything, it does more than ever to show why we are vital to New Brunswick.
The immediate and vicious reaction of the SANB, Liberal Leader Susan Holt, and Green MLA Kevin Arseneau is a prime example of why.
This behavior must stop. We cannot have leaders in a democratic society who do not support democracy. Leaders who try to silence the voice they don’t personally care to hear and who want to leave large portions of the community outside of any policy or decision that does not fit their agenda.
Most importantly, we cannot afford to have leaders who continue to divide us. We need leaders focused on uniting. On working together. On respecting one another.
It’s time for us to come together. To stop insulting one another, tuning one another out, and dehumanizing one another over petty differences. In a democratic society, everyone has a voice. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. By voting, the people will decide what they accept and don’t – let that process happen.
We are witnessing nothing more than “politics as usual.”
Premier Higgs is making a strategic political move. Minister Austin, oddly enough, is now a part of a secret, “behind closed doors” review committee such as he specifically railed and campaigned against – but it’s a significant feather in his political cap. Susan Holt is looking to establish herself as the Leader of the Liberals, a party strongly dependent on the Francophone vote. The SANB has never taken a cooperative or collaborative approach to anything – their strategy has always been to demand, intimidate, threaten, and sue.
So yes, it’s business as usual.
Furthermore, it’s a huge, controversial move than takes the focus away from healthcare, affordable housing, French Immersion, and tax cuts for the wealthy.
Don’t let yourself be sidetracked from what is important. The circus is only in town for a short time before it moves on, and the next amusement venture arrives.
People’s Alliance is deeply concerned by Premier Higgs stated intention of eliminating French Immersion by the start of the 2023 school year, and implementing an undisclosed alternative in time for the 2024 election.
We believe this to be a poorly considered decision, and we would strongly appeal to the Premier to reconsider. Furthermore, we recognize the turmoil and confusion that many parents are now feeling because of this announcement, and we call on the Premier to further detail his plan.
While fully recognizing the many opportunities within our current program, we believe that eliminating it within the stated time frame would further disadvantage anglophone children without consideration of long-term impact. It has long been identified that frequent political “tinkering” has had a negative impact on our children, and further changes should be carefully developed and implemented, and must not be rushed for the sake of trying to win votes in 2024.
One item identified in a recent report from John McLaughlin and Yvette Finn as part of the review of the Official Languages Act promotes creating an “authentic and immersive language-rich French second language program.” This report also suggests that the creation of an effective program could take several years to fully implement.
New Brunswick is a bilingual province, something that we believe most of us are proud of despite its many struggles. While changes to our program are necessary based on years of inadequate outcomes, the result must be an improvement of bilingual outcomes and accessibility to every student.
Nothing less is acceptable.