The New Brunswick government modified its plans to revamp French-language training in its schools on Tuesday as it responded to criticism from parents and a court ruling ordering more public consultation.
Education Minister Kelly Lamrock says early French immersion will be available to pupils in Grade 3, starting in September 2010.
The government had previously announced plans to cancel early French immersion beginning in Grade 1 in the coming school year.
French-language training will be available to all students in Grade 5 under the changes announced Tuesday.
Lamrock said an introduction to French language and culture will be available for all students in kindergarten and in their early grades, while a wider range of options for French instruction in high school will also be in the new curriculum.
Premier Shawn Graham said the changes are needed to ensure the province is meeting the needs of all students.
"It is something that is fair, inclusive and bilingual and focused on quality and equality," Graham told a news conference.
"New Brunswickers told us almost unanimously that they recognized that our education system could and must be better, that changes were needed."
A recent court ruling ordered Lamrock to seek more public input before arriving at a final decision on French immersion for the start of the next school year.
Lamrock said the change is needed to make French-language training available to all students, not just a minority.
"We have managed to find a plan that we believe will strike the right balance," Lamrock said.
Under the modifications announced on Tuesday, students entering Grade 1 will have the option to start French immersion in Grade 3.
"In establishing this Grade 3 immersion point, we have to make sure that bilingualism isn't just for a minority in New Brunswick," Lamrock said.
There will also be a second chance for students to start French immersion in Grade 6 if they don't take the option in Grade 3.
"There will be a Grade 6 entry point into immersion for students who come later in life to the ability and passion to learn a second language," Lamrock said.
Under the old system, about 20 per cent of school kids in New Brunswick were able to make use of the early immersion program, which was never offered universally.
The remaining 80 per cent ended up in core classrooms that the government says were overcrowded and ill-equipped to handle the many special-needs children with learning disabilities.
The government says the core program was doing so poorly that only 28 graduates managed to pass an intermediate-level French proficiency test last year.
The province's Liberal government has said it wants 70 per cent of all high school graduates to be bilingual by 2012.