Are we fostering bi-illiterates?

I’ve been watching the New Brunswick bilingual education system for a decade now. It’s presided by a Minister who heads two separate departments, based on language. Within the English sector many schools offer early, middle and late French immersion. There is also a movement in our district to offer a hybrid between early and middle immersion. Few seem happy with the system and there are constant attempts to tinker with it.

My own observations, as a parent and a consultant to the Department, are that design and implementation don’t seem to mesh very well. The idea of French immersion is to start with a lot of spoken and written French in the early years and then taper off in high school. The concept is fine, but the implemention requires teachers with excellent French language skills, as the students only have one person to emulate. Our experience shows major discrepancies in French ability amongst teachers, to the extent that in some cases we have had to correct the teacher’s assignments.

At the NextNB public forum [what ever happened to those recommendations from 2004?] I remember a French language professor stating that he preferred students who had not been in French immersion in high school, as they had fewer bad habits. He said that non-immersion students passed the immersion graduates by the middle of the first year of university.

I have often wondered if we are developing bi-illiterate graduates in our public school system; fluent in neither English nor French. I was reminded of this in reading Alec Bruce’s article, Trudeaumania. Alec says that Justin Trudeau slayed a few sacred cows on his recent visit to New Brunswick, including this attribution:

“New Brunswick’s bifurcated public school system produces functionally illiterate Francophones and Anglophones more efficiently than it graduates culturally tolerant, linguistically engaged citizens.”

Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a movement to make the radical changes that we need in our education system. It seems that this conversation is becoming more public.

… in spite of news to the contrary, I still believe that it’s good to have a serious discussion about our education system.

2 Responses to “Are we fostering bi-illiterates?”

  1. Alec Bruce

    Correct, Harold. Still, I don’t want to appear to put actual words in the man’s mouth. The attribution you write about is my extrapolation of Trudeau’s meaning. The comment didn’t appear in quotes because he never actually said it. I said it.

    When I write “I wish I had said that”, I am being ironic. Naturally, though, I stand by the statement I make.


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