New Brunswick announces language pilot project that could bring changes to French immersion

Changes coming to New Brunswick’s French immersion program
New Brunswick’s education minister says major changes are coming to the province’s French immersion program. As Silas Brown reports, Dominic Cardy says the system isn’t accomplishing its goal of graduating bilingual students.

The New Brunswick government will be introducing a French language training pilot project that — if successful — could replace French immersion.

“We’re looking at trying a universally accessible French language program to try and deal with the fact that our current system, which includes French immersion,” said New Brunswick’s education minister Dominic Cardy.

“But not only that, we’ve got a number of programs offered in the Anglophone sector, and those programs haven’t delivered on their goal, which is making sure we have a bilingual province.”

Cardy said program details have yet to be determined, but the program will take elements of second language programs from around the world and be tested at a dozen volunteer schools over the 2020-2021 school year.

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The hope is a more effective French-language education system than the current immersion and Anglophone programs.

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“If we can, fantastic. Hopefully that will be a model that will propel New Brunswick forward,” said Cardy.

“If we can’t and the programs that we currently have offer better results, we’ll keep those and we’ll find other ways to improve the system.”

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People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin says he’s been in conversation with Cardy and Premier Blaine Higgs over the past year about the elimination of what he calls a “failed program.”

“French immersion is a failure. Period. It’s a fact. So if it’s a failure, why are we keeping it? Why aren’t we changing it to make sure that all kids have the opportunity to learn a second language,” said Austin.

“How it happens, I’m flexible on that. If Minister Cardy wants to come out and start a pilot project I’m okay with that … but we have to move in that direction.”

Cardy says he can’t recall meeting with Austin, but says he has regularly met with the education critics for all opposition parties to hear their thoughts on how French training can be approved.

New Brunswick to review education, keep entry point for immersion
New Brunswick to review education, keep entry point for immersion

Liberal education critic Chuck Chiasson said he spoke to Cardy about the subject early in his mandate, but has not been consulted since.

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Chiasson says he understands there are issues with the system, but favours a more measured approach to reform.

“We have a program that’s proven to be successful,” Chiasson said. “We should work with that program and make the necessary changes to make it more effective.

“I think we need to make some smaller tweaks in the later years. That’s where we start to see some difficulty. In the early years, from kindergarten right up through elementary school, it works phenomenally and children excel.”

Gérald Arseneault, president of the New Brunswick Association of Francophone Teachers, taught French immersion for over 20 years.

He says the program works as intended until high school, where a combination of rigid graduation and university entrance requirements and a lack of French language courses mean students don’t get an opportunity to practice their French in school.

“They basically had almost no French taught to them or any class done in French from grade 10 to 12 and then you ask them to pass a test,” Arseneault said.

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Arseneault said he is optimistic that an overhauled program would be effective if created with proper consultation.

“Change is good if it’s well-implemented, well-taught, well-educated, well-researched,” he said.

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Rick Cuming, the president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association, says they hope to be involved in the implementation of the pilot project and are also hopeful that it could be beneficial.

“Really we just don’t have information about what this pilot project entails, and so the specific changes about the pilot project, we really don’t know much about that at this point,” Cuming said.

“We’re looking forward to working with the minister as we move forward to try and improve French second language training for all students.”