Early French immersion should be restored, expert says

New Brunswick should reinstate an early entry point in the French immersion system, a move that may rekindle a heated debate that has been dormant in recent years.

University of New Brunswick's Joseph Dicks says restore Grade 1 entry point for French immersion

Students returned to school earlier this week and the future of the province's education system has been a major issue on the campaign trail. (CBC)

New Brunswick should reinstate an early entry point in the French immersion system, a move that may rekindle a heated debate that has been dormant in recent years.

Joseph Dicks, an education professor at the University of New Brunswick and the director of the Second Language Research Institute of Canada, said in an op-ed written for CBC News the policy to move the entry point to Grade 3 is not working.

“We need a sound, stable, early entry program that provides access for students of a wide range of abilities and that supports learners who are experiencing difficulty,” Dicks writes.

“New Brunswick should have an early entry (K or Grade 1) French immersion program, just as every other province and territory in Canada does.”

He said the data that has come back since the switch to the Grade 3 entry point can be interpreted in different ways. But Dicks said he feels it has not been working.

“So, what have we achieved? No French programming from K-2 (even Grade 3 for many students),” he said.

“An intensive program that has created a major upheaval in the system but mediocre results at best.”

The second language expert said the earlier children start learning additional languages, the more easily they pick them up.

Dicks said the French immersion program should be adapted so students of all ability levels can enter the system and so it is not seen as a program for a select group of students.

“We need to change our thinking about early French immersion. It is not enrichment. It is not there to benefit a few,” he said.

“It is a program that, when properly designed, can provide the maximum level of bilingualism for the broadest range of learners.”

The French immersion program has long been a contentious issue because of concerns of streaming so many children who struggle in school stay in the English program, while others enrol in French immersion.

The former Liberal government faced a major backlash when then education minister Kelly Lamrock announced early French immersion would be scrapped and all students would enter the program in Grade 5.

That decision prompted protests and a lawsuit. Eventually, Lamrock backed down and the entry point was moved to Grade 3.

The Alward government appointed two former education ministers, James Lockyer and Elvy Robichaud, to study the French immersion program.

The report called for a return to the Grade 1 entry point, but in 2012 then education minister Jody Carr said the entry point would remain in Grade 3. Carr said the entry point would not be changed until more work was done on finding better ways to deliver French immersion in Grade 1 and Grade 2.

Dicks said the program does not need any more studies.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant has promised to restore the Grade 1 entry point. The other political parties have not committed to moving the entry point.

About the Author

Daniel McHardie

Reporter

Daniel McHardie has been a reporter with CBC.ca in New Brunswick since 2008. He also co-hosts the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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