New Brunswick

Early French immersion reform concerns teachers' union

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association is concerned about the Liberal government’s promise to switch the early entry point for French Immersion back to Grade 1, saying the education system is already “overwhelmed.”

Peter Fullerton of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association says the education system is 'overwhelmed'

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association is concerned about the Liberal government’s promise to switch the entry point for French Immersion back to Grade 1, saying the education system is already “overwhelmed.”

Premier Brian Gallant’s Liberals campaigned on changing the entry point to Grade 1 from Grade 3 and Education Minister Serge Rousselle reaffirmed that commitment last week.

Peter Fullerton, the president of the NBTA, told Information Morning Moncton on Thursday that teachers are worried about the impact on the education system.

“Our position really is no surprise to anybody, it is one of concern. We're concerned about the impact that a change or a switch back to Grade 1 immersion would have on the system,” Fullerton said.

“When you combine that with many changes that we've had in recent years, such things like amalgamation, inclusion, and a number of pilot programs that are in place in different areas in the province, we are concerned that this is going to stretch an already overwhelmed system.”

There has been considerable debate about the best grade to start French immersion.

The Shawn Graham government moved the entry point to Grade 3.

A few years later, the David Alward government appointed two previous education ministers, James Lockyer and Elvy Robichaud, to study the French immersion program. Their 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.

A CBC-Radio Canada poll released in September showed 58 per cent of New Brunswickers would like to see the entry point for French immersion in Grade 1 compared to 34 per cent who would like to see it in Grade 3.

Education shouldn't be a political football

Fullerton said the French immersion program should no longer be used as a political football with changes being tossed around every four years.

Fullerton said his union wants to sit down with Rousselle to discuss the education minister’s strategy on rolling out these promised reforms.

He said there are many unanswered questions, such as whether this new policy will be implemented across the province or just in specific schools.

“If we are going to run a new system, we are concerned about how it is going to be funded,” he said

“Where is that money going to come from? Is it going to come from somewhere else in the education system or is it going to be new money? We all know that any new program that comes into play in the education system certainly costs.”

From the teachers' union’s perspective, Fullerton said they are not coming out in favour of one entry point or the other.

But he said the next decision must be based on solid data about how the system is working for students.

"To continually change every time a new government comes into place I think that's the reason for our concern because of the impact it has on the system.  I think it's important for us, if we are going to make a change, to make sure that it's based on sound data and research and not just do it because it's something that happens every time a new government comes into office,” he said.

In September, Joseph Dicks, an education professor at the University of New Brunswick and the director of the Second Language Research Institute of Canada, said the French Immersion policy to move the entry point to Grade 3 is not working for students.

Dicks said the program does not need any more studies.

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