‘Conversation has just begun’ for French second-language education reforms: Higgs

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Higgs says conversation around French education reforms ‘just begun’
WATCH: Just three days after New Brunswick Education Minister Bill Hogan announced the province was scrapping its controversial French immersion reforms, Premier Blaine Higgs said the conversation has “just begun” on changing French second-language education. Suzanne Lapointe reports. – Feb 20, 2023

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs doubled down on the need for French immersion reforms at the Council of Atlantic Premiers Monday, just three days after Education Minister Bill Hogan announced the province was scrapping the controversial proposed changes on Friday.

“While I respect Minister Hogan had to make a change given where we were, what I’m hopeful is that the conversation has only just begun,” Higgs said in response to a question about the scrapped reform.

The intent of the reform was to replace the current immersion program, in which anglophone students who opt in receive up to 90 per cent of their education in French, to one in which all anglophone students receive half of their education in French.

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The proposed reform was met with strong opposition, with hundreds of parents passionately arguing for the status quo at public consultations.

Critics of the proposed program felt it lowered the bar for French second language proficiency by setting it at “conversational French.”

“Unfortunately in these sessions, rather than get to the root cause of how we fix this … it becomes a shouting session and it becomes distracted in terms of the real point,” Higgs said of the public consultations on Monday.

Hogan cited the public opposition as part of the reason the reforms were scrapped in a news release issued on Friday.

“We have taken all we have heard and incorporated it into our decision,” the release read.

Canadian Parents for French executive director Chris Collins said he was pleased to hear Minister Hogan had heard the voices of parents opposing the reform on Friday.

“Now I’m a little disappointed because it’s obvious that the Premier hasn’t heard from the parents, the teachers and the grandparents in the province of New Brunswick,” he said, calling Higgs’ comments “bizarre” and “concerning”.

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Higgs stressed his goal is a one-size fits all approach to immersion, saying the current program streams children into different groups by making them choose between immersion and English Prime.

“It’s not over,” Higgs said. “It’s just the beginning of fixing our anglophone system.”

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