Francophone group considers how to impact French immersion education

As the controversy around French immersion education in New Brunswick continues to swirl, the francophone community is considering how it can be part of the solution. 

Members of the community met over the weekend to discuss how it can become more involved in French immersion education. 

"I think people would like to understand why the Acadian/francophone community is relatively silent on the issue of immersion," said Ali Chaisson, the director of the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, which held the forum as part of its annual general meeting. 

French immersion has been a contentious issue in the province for years. 

Successive governments have made changes to the age when students start the program, which Auditor General Kim MacPherson reported has taken a toll on student learning. 

There are also questions about the proficiency of teachers teaching French.

The most recent data available from the province shows only 10 per cent of students who entered early immersion in 2005 achieved the goal of advanced proficiency by the end of Grade 12 in 2017. 

"The prevailing issue is, can the francophone community in New Brunswick remain a passive observer of immersion or do we want to attempt, at least attempt, to be a more active partner," Chaisson said. 

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Reiterated during the forum was the need to build bridges between the anglophone and francophone communities. 

"We are at a time that we need to figure out why it's not working as good as we would like it to work," said Nicole Sluyter, who represents the society's southern region.  

"It's time to look at the program, it's time to do some analysis and it's time to improve it," Sluyter said.

"And we're here to listen to both. We're here to learn more and we're here to again to make sure that people in this province can go anywhere and can speak French or English and be respected and feel good about it."

Beyond the classroom 

Chaisson said he would like to see the francophone and Acadian communities help to take the French language beyond the classroom.

"It seems to me that we have a bastion of resources and language opportunity within a three-hour drive as opposed to a three-hour flight to give young people a chance to explore on a more lifelong learning perspective," he said.

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Education Minister Dominic Cardy agreed.

"Modern education is not about being in a school building anymore, it's about being with someone who's got something to share with you, igniting your passion for learning as a student," he said. "There's no reason that we should exclude second-language education from that."

Cardy floated other ideas, such as teaching French to preschool children.