New Brunswick students starting school will once again be able to do so in either official language as French immersion returns to grade one.
Since 2008, Grade 3 has been the starting point for French immersion, a move instituted by the Liberal government of the day.
Now, Premier Brian Gallant’s Liberals are reverting back to the way things were, saying increasing bilingualism in the province is a main priority for their government.
“We want to have stability as one of the principles that guides us in the decisions that we make,” said Gallant. “But we can’t necessarily say that’s going to be the only principle because if it were, we would simply only have the status quo and as we know, we have to improve our educational outcomes.”
“If you want to learn a second language, or languages in general, the best time to do so is when you’re young,” said Gallant.
The announcement comes on the heels of a week of bilingualism talks by the province.
Just days ago the government announced French language training would be provided to unemployed, unilingual residents.
Both announcements are welcome news to the Canadian Parents for French organization who say some parents can be hesitant to enroll their child in immersion for fear of not being able to assist in a language they can’t speak.
“I had core French in school, which wasn’t very much French, and I was concerned about that,” admitted Jane Keith, volunteer president of Canadian Parents for French. “But I learned with them as they went along and my french has improved.”
While the two-year difference might seem minuscule to some, Keith argues that it’s those formative years that can make or break whether a child gets the chance to learn to be bilingual.
“The later that kids go in the program the more selective the parents will be,” she said. “If you have a child in kindergarten or Grade 1 and 2 that may be struggling academically, you’re maybe not inclined to add another academic challenge whereas if kids start in kindergarten or Grade 1 they’re all at the same level,” Keith said.
“It’s a more level playing field.”
Grade 1 French immersion is planned to be implemented in September 2017.