Immersed in New Brunswick

On Tuesday the government of New Brunswick made a decision on early French immersion education, after having been forced by a court to reconsider an earlier decision. The “final” decision is one that baffles me from a research perspective but makes sense from a political one. This decision makes people feel better about being unilingual and gives a false sense that literacy in the first language will now improve.

Early French Immersion, which begins in kindergarten or Grade 1 in all Canadian provinces will now start in Grade 3 in Canada’s only officially bilingual province. It seems that New Brunswickers need to concentrate on first language skills before being saddled with a second. That is in spite of the research that shows that learning a second language actually enhances first language skills. Our politicians and bureaucrats are not ones to let data cloud their preconceived notions of what actually works.

French immersion is a program that is open to all, where the demand exists. One problem has been that not all parents want it. The other issue is that special needs children cannot get services in French, so they must opt for the English program. It creates what the Minister calls streaming. This is streaming because the Department of Education has never put adequate resources into the immersion program. And so it gets watered down.

This government and the education system have been pushing the idea that an optional second language immersion program, fought for 30 years ago, is detrimental to the education of all children because only a minority take it. Streaming is presented as the root of our educational woes, even though the immersion program received very little of the Department’s teaching support resources last year.

Now we have the only early second language immersion program in Canada that starts in Grade 3. What would you do if you were from another province and had a choice of schooling your children in New Brunswick? This is a real decision for military families or those considering a career move to this province, such as university professors. Would you move here or would you stay away from this anomaly and give your children more educational options?

I can see nothing about this new program that is attractive to anyone outside of this Province. It is not innovative in any sense. An innovative approach would have been second language immersion for ALL students beginning in kindergarten. This move is a retrograde action. The drive-through province has become the drive-away-from province.

4 Responses to “Immersed in New Brunswick”

  1. jeff white

    Harold, I’m going to respectfully disagree. This is *exactly* how french immersion should be. My wife has taught in both NB and NS and in Immersion and English. I graduated from the very first late immersion program in NS, so I’m well versed in these programs.

    The current situation of Primary entry is a bad move all around. My wife sees it every year. Kids entering at age 5 are not grounded enough in their first language. They need a better foundation in english before moving to french. Your new system does this. By the time grade three rolls around in the current system at least 10-15% of kids flunk out and need to switch to english. This has a *devastating* effect on them. They lose the friends they have been with for four years, they feel like failures and worse still, they are now completely useless in both languages. Most will catch up but it will take them until Junior High or even later.

    As a parent of three pre-schoolers, it will be very hard to make the decision to put our children into French Immersion. The current system is broken. There are no resources for teachers. None. My wife translated everything.

    Intensive French is a better choice. See what the kids can do first, switch them later. They will perform better. I can almost guarantee it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all other provinces following NB’s lead on this. There are lots of teachers here who would push for this kind of system.

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  2. Harold Jarche

    Disagreement is encouraged here, Jeff. One of the core issues is that we can’t agree as a society on what our education system should be, so we keep tinkering with it. If the desired outcome is better ability in a second language, then starting earlier is better according to the preponderance of research. Optional immersion is a problem too, because people opt in (based on parents’ perceptions) and the system can push students out. If immersion for all was the norm, then we would support all students and teachers, as we do for English, Math, etc.

    As you admit, there are not enough resources. Isn’t that the way to ensure that a program fails – by not giving it adequate resources?

    By making immersion optional, we say that second language abilities are not up to par with other, more important, subjects. In my experience, a second language is one of the few things that you can take with you into any endeavour. My ability to work in French has made the difference on several occasions on whether I get a contract or not.

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  3. A. Conde

    Another nail in the coffin for Mr Graham’s self-sufficiency rainbow coloured fantasy. I knew french immersion was on the block 4 years ago before my daughter entered the system. She was enrolled in a french school and today there’s one more bilingual NBer. No problems.

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