No French immersion could lead to weaker bilingual services, teacher association says

Students enrolling in anglophone schools in New Brunswick this fall will not have a French immersion option. (Ben Nelms/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Students enrolling in anglophone schools in New Brunswick this fall will not have a French immersion option. (Ben Nelms/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A group representing French immersion teachers says cancelling the program in New Brunswick threatens its status as the only bilingual province in Canada.

Starting this fall, the province will do away with the current program, replacing it with expanded core French. Under the new program, all students in anglophone districts will receive more French instruction, up to 50 per cent a day.

But this also means students who want 80 to 90 per cent French instruction in elementary school, as they received in immersion, likely won't get it.

Chantal Bourbonnais said that means fewer students will be good enough in French to work in government and private industry when they graduate.

"We're sort of levelling down," said the executive director of the Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals.

Education Minister Bill Hogan has said the goal is to end a two-tiered system that "streams" students who struggle academically into the core program and better-performing students into the immersion program, instead of giving all students an equal chance for immersive French education.

Bourbonnais said the new program will likely result in a better understanding of French for all students, and she applauds it. But it would not provide the instruction needed for students to be able to properly read and write in French.

She said that means it will be harder to maintain a steady supply of functionally bilingual workers for New Brunswick employers, making it harder to maintain bilingual services.

"Going with this program, we'll be diluting and not be producing bilingual students at the end of the year school," she told Information Morning Fredericton. 

"You're not producing a bilingual workforce at all, so it means that bilingualism will just go down in the province."

Hogan has also said the province is not seeing enough anglophones with the ability to speak French, so the immersion program is not working.

Bourbonnais said the solution to that problem is to have a better program for students struggling with immersion, not eliminating French immersion.

"If your arm is broken, you don't cut it off," she said.

As a response to a request for interview, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development spokesperson Clarissa Andersen sent an emailed statement.

In the statement, Anderson said the new program's goal is for all anglophone-sector students to graduate with conversational French at a minimum, a proficiency level known as B1.

This level means the student is able to easily maintain day-to-day conversations.

For French immersion, the goal is for students graduate with a minimum level of B2, which includes the ability to read complex texts and make complex arguments.

Andersen also said high school students who want more French education will have the opportunity to seek it.

She said the province will be monitoring the program's ability to teach students to read and write in French and "will be able to communicate outcomes" in the future.