The debate on the elimination of early French immersion will continue, but the NB Liberal government has drawn a line in the sand and is moving ahead with its one-size-fits-all approach to fix its industrial school system. Immersion was the grand experiment that began 32 years ago in order to put fact to the policy that this province was officially bilingual. Some embraced this view while others rejected it. Now even the Minister of Education is telling people to get their early language learning outside the school system.
Today our students score low on international literacy tests and have poor numeracy test results as well. The Minister wants to fix the system and fix it quick. However, he is stuck with an industrial school system staffed by an aging unionized workforce using crumbling facilities with students arriving in diesel powered buses from far and wide on a daily basis. There is not much room to manoeuver. Just imagine what fuel price increases will do to the bus contract in the next few years.
In order to get more leverage, the Minister and his staff have decided to consolidate their efforts in a last ditch attempt to make school relevant and hopefully effective. But hope is not a strategy.
What has kept this industrial school system going is that most parents feel that it is a “good enough” option and the costs of leaving (e.g. home-schooling) are high, especially when many families have both parents working outside the home. Early French immersion kept many of the more involved parents committed to the system. Now it is gone. We’ve run out of money and options, constrained by years of added bulk to the system.
I do not believe that this strategy will work for several reasons:
- Many of the most motivated parents now feel alienated and they will start looking for other options. Second language instruction was one of the few areas that actually worked, especially in the early years.
- The standard curriculum is becoming less relevant as we move from an industrial to a networked economy. For further reading: Why Johnny And Janey Can’t Read, And Why Mr. And Ms. Smith Can’t Teach: The challenge of multiple media literacies in a tumultuous time
- There are more available options to the industrial school system, such as abolishing schools in the UK, or school as a design studio.
- The Internet enables group forming on an enormous scale and parents can easily find others with similar concerns.
Just as the newspaper, radio and music publishing industries (all based on a broadcast model) are becoming obsolete, so too is broadcast education – we teach, you learn; perhaps. One system to save us all will not work and I think that this decision will create a sea change in the people’s relationship with their public education system.
See my Public Education bookmarks for more resources.
Just after posting this, I came across Ross Dawson’s post on industrial policy [my emphasis]:
Japan and Singapore are examples of nations that have had highly interventionist industrial policies and industry support through the second half of the twentieth century, with great success. However once economies become developed, the key issues are far less about manufacturing prowess. Today the buzzwords in national economic development are knowledge, creativity, media, content, entertainment, design, and the like. All of these flow easily across boundaries. Moreover, the educational and social structures required to support them are dramatically different to those that support the creation of an industrial and manufacturing powerhouse.