The Gallant government, in its first days of this sitting of the Legislature, once again reiterated its plans to reintroduce French Immersion into Grade one. This is being done against strong advice from the New Brunswick Teacher’s Association, from Dr. Miller at St. Thomas University, and from other experts in the field who have pointed out that the negatives for early immersion far outweigh any positives this program might achieve.
“Gallant’s motives have nothing to do with educational objectives; this is all about politics,” says Kris Austin, leader of the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick. “With our literacy rates in both official languages at levels so low that it’s mind-boggling, if Gallant were interested in the educational objectives, he would pay attention to what the educators and experts are saying. And what they are saying is that the immersion point should not be moved to grade one.” Austin also points out that this re-introduction goes completely against the recent educational roadmap which promised that education would be left to the educators.
Austin notes that there is far more common ground between the English and French-speaking communities of New Brunswick than the divisive policies of successive PC and Liberal governments suggest, and one area of that common ground is literacy. “We all want our children to become literate in their mother tongue first, not only as the means of preserving their own language, but to ensure they can communicate successfully and with confidence in that language.”
“Communicating successfully in one’s language doesn’t just mean speaking the language and having a good vocabulary. Successful communication skills include reading and writing…or, in other words, literacy. We are failing our children and our families in achieving this literacy, and neither our English nor our French parents are satisfied with these results,” continued Austin.
Also absent from the announcement was any mention of how many English-speaking elementary school teachers have to be displaced, and new French Immersion teachers hired, to implement this program. “Teacher displacement could be as high as one hundred,” says Austin. “To follow through, French Immersion will have to be offered in grade two as these students move along, which means more teacher displacement until eventually the Immersion program hits grade three, where it begins now.”
He also noted that, since French immersion at any grade level is still not available to every student in the province, further changes to the entry grade are pointless until that disparity can be corrected.
“A People’s Alliance government would leave these decisions in the hands of the educators and experts, unlike successive PC and Liberal regimes,” says Austin. “They have spoken, repeatedly and emphatically. The entry point shouldn’t be changed, and the politics have to be taken out of the program.”