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New Brunswick

People’s Alliance calls on minister to reconsider immersion change

The People’s Alliance has joined the call for the Higgs government to reverse the proposed replacement of French immersion with a new French second language programme.

The Alliance, which has harshly criticized how official bilingualism is being implemented, says it is crucial to give Anglophones the opportunity to learn French.

“New Brunswick is a unique province, proudly the only bilingual province in the country,” Rudy Walters, the party’s executive committee president, said in a recent letter to Education Secretary Bill Hogan, asking him to consider the change.

“It’s ridiculous to think that we could soon be the only province in the country not offering a French immersion program.”

The Alliance elected two MLAs, including leader Kris Austin, in the last provincial election, but both members joined the Progressive Conservative Caucus last March.

The province plans to begin phasing in a new program for all students this fall, in which they will spend half the school day learning English and half French.

A man speaks.
Education Secretary Bill Hogan received a letter from Walters asking him to consider changes to the French immersion program. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

While immersion advocates argue that French isn’t enough, many Alliance advocates find it too much in a universal, mandatory program, Walters says.

“Families should be able to choose whether their children are fully immersed or just receive the French training as part of the English Prime program,” he said in an interview.

“Families should have that choice. It shouldn’t be forced on anyone to learn French 50 percent of the day, nor should it be taken away from families who want that extra language training.”

In 2019, then-Alliance leader Kris Austin called the French language immersion “a dismal failure,” citing the number of program graduates who are not fluent in the language.

Walters said it’s difficult to call the immersion program a failure “if we haven’t seen the results yet.”

He pointed out that in 2017 the entry point for immersion was moved back to 1st grade, so students in that system have not yet reached high school to be assessed.

A man in a suit faces forward.  Behind him stands a woman with a recorder.
Kris Austin called the French immersion program a “dismal failure” when he was leader of the People’s Alliance Party. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Austin is now cabinet minister for the Progressive Conservatives.

Last fall, before the 50-50 program was announced, Austin said he didn’t want to see changes that were “so overwhelming” that kids wouldn’t be able to learn math, science, and basic literacy skills.

In a statement emailed Tuesday, Austin declined to say if he supports the plan.

“Where from [the department] is currently in the consultation process, it would be premature to comment,” he said. “As such, I reserve the right to comment until a final decision is made.”

During public consultations, some parents have expressed concern that children with learning disabilities will find it difficult to develop reading skills in English as their classroom time is reduced to just half a day in the language.

PC MLA Andrea Anderson-Mason said last month she had heard from some parents who were upset that their children weren’t getting enough French to be fluent and others who didn’t want their children to be “forced to learn French.” to learn. That should be an option. “

A woman sits at a table in front of a laptop in the new Braunschweig state parliament.
Progressive Conservative MLA Andrea Anderson-Mason has expressed concern at the speed at which the new French-language program is being rolled out in New Brunswick schools. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Walters said he wrote the letter to Hogan rather than current party leader Rick DeSaulniers because the issue was “deeply personal” to him, although DeSaulniers fully supported the position.

Walters now has one child in Immersion and he would enroll another if the program weren’t replaced.

His son in immersion has “taken off immensely” while learning French, “and if that’s any indication of how other kids are doing, I believe that starting in 1st grade French immersion is right where it’s going to be.” should.”

He says if there are issues with the quality of the non-immersion English prime stream, the government should allocate more resources to it.

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