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.