Parent group welcomes N.B. premier statement that French immersion reform uncertain
FREDERICTON – A New Brunswick parents’ group welcomes a statement by the prime minister that the government’s proposed reform of French immersion programs in schools “was never a sure thing”.
Chris Collins, executive director of the New Brunswick chapter of Canadian Parents for French, said it was heartening to see Premier Blaine Higgs softening his stance.
“We’re very encouraged, but we’re not popping the champagne at this point,” Collins said Wednesday night.
“The people of New Brunswick have been very vocal about this, and they want the New Brunswick government to back down. And we hope that will happen in the near future.”
Higgs told reporters on Wednesday that his government’s plans to reform French immersion were not specific and that he would make a decision based on recommendations from the Department of Education. The proposed changes are due to be implemented in the autumn and would require kindergarten and elementary school students to study French for half the day – less than the current 90 percent of the day.
“It was never a sure thing,” Higgs said. “If that were the case, there wouldn’t have been much point in consulting. It was a suggestion to say, “Is there another way we can actually achieve better success?”
The government has said the aim of its reforms is to ensure that all anglophone graduates have at least a ‘conversational level’ in French. The province boasts of being the only officially bilingual province in Canada, but regrets that most of its English-speaking graduates cannot speak French.
The government has recently held a series of public consultations on the proposed changes, including a meeting in the capital last month where almost everyone who spoke criticized the plan.
At the public consultation session in Fredericton, Education Secretary Bill Hogan said the Government would collect data and make recommendations which would be shared “as soon as possible”.
Higgs said Wednesday he looks forward to the recommendations. “We heard a lot of comments. A lot of information has been exchanged and I think the minister and the deputy and the department are evaluating it all now.”
“I haven’t had a final proposal or a proposal for the next steps yet. The Minister and I, as well as the Ministry staff, will meet about this and of course there will probably be further discussions between the Cabinet and the Group and then we will decide on the basis of the recommendations.”
Collins said French language immersion in the province could be improved by attracting more teachers, which he said would make the program more accessible to more students.
One of the parents at the Fredericton consultation said he was concerned the government would claim a silent majority was in favor of changing French immersion – despite vocal opposition. Hogan did not answer reporters’ questions after the meeting about what proportion of residents he thought supported the new program.
Collins said it would be “political suicide” if the government went ahead with its proposed French immersion model.
“There is no silent majority here. This is just plain language,” he said. “The people of New Brunswick want to maintain French immersion, just as they have in every other province of Canada.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 2, 2023.
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