Eliminating French immersion does not address quality of learning concerns, educator says

More resources and supports for students could help bridge the education gap betrween French Immersion and English Prime students, educator says. (Oseremen Irete/CBC - image credit)
More resources and supports for students could help bridge the education gap betrween French Immersion and English Prime students, educator says. (Oseremen Irete/CBC - image credit)

An educator and researcher says it's not clear if doing away with French immersion will make the system more inclusive.

Melissa Garrett, assistant professor heading the exceptional learners program in the Faculty of Education at the University of New Brunswick, said there is a way to tackle the "two-tiered system" identified by a review into French immersion, without doing away with French immersion for Anglophone students.

She said that starts with not giving up on students who struggle with immersion, and giving them more resources and help.

"We are lacking in inclusive education by saying just because you have a learning disability or just because you've fallen behind, that's reason enough that we're going to pull you out of this program," she said, quoting a teacher she spoke to when researching the topic. "The child is struggling in reading. They're going to struggle in reading regardless of a language."

This month the resignation of Dominic Cardy as minister of education brought to light Premier Blaine Higgs' plan to fast-track education changes by removing French immersion and creating a new required program for all Anglophone students by fall of 2023. The initial deadline was 2024-25.

The province is still developing the new program and has not revealed any details.

A report on second-language training in the province recommended the French immersion program be dismantled and replaced with an "immersive" program for all students.

The recommendation says the new program should be "implemented according to a well-established and reasonable implementation timeline that minimizes disruptions and instability in the overall school system."

"It may take a number of years to be fully implemented," said the report that was released eight months ago.

The report said 40 per cent of students are in French immersion, and they consistently out-perform the remaining 60 per cent that are in English Prime.

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association opposed the move to accelerate the changes to the education system.

"It is imperative that decisions be made in the best interests of all students, address pre-existing classroom composition challenges, and acknowledge the strain that current teacher shortages are placing on the system," the association said in a statement.

"A September 2023 implementation would further aggravate these situations."

Education Minister Bill Hogan said children currently enrolled in immersion would have the option to stay in it until graduation.

 

Strengthen education for all

About 90 per cent of students who stay in immersion until Grade 12 graduate with a conversational level of French.

Garret said the key to making sure all New Brunswick students have the best chance at learning and maintaining French is providing more, not less.

She said more intensive French classes for English Prime students would help.

"To me this seems like an obvious area where we could target our efforts, where we could strengthen and enhance that programming without removing French immersion."