French immersion entry point remains at Grade 1 — for now
Education Minister plans summit on entire education system in October, but NBTA says that's too late
Education Minister Dominic Cardy says the New Brunswick government will keep the French immersion entry point at Grade 1 for at least a year.
Cardy said public consultations revealed challenges with the program go beyond the entry point.
"The current system is failing to graduate bilingual students," Cardy said in a statement Thursday. "A change in the entry point at this time would only address one small part of a larger challenge facing our education system."
However, in the legislature later in the day, the Progressive Conservatives voted down a proposal that would have made the Grade 1 entry point more permanent.
French immersion is a program designed to help students learn French through language arts and other subjects.
According to Policy 309 of the Department of Education, the goal is to get students to an "advanced" level on the provincial second-language proficiency scale. The scale has nine levels, with advanced being the third highest.
The most recent data available from the province show only 10 per cent of students who entered early immersion in 2005 achieved the goal of advanced proficiency by the end of Grade 12 in 2017.
"Our goal is to be top ten in the Program for International Student Assessment rankings in reading, math and science," Cardy said. The rankings, a program of the OECD, are released after an exam taken every three years by 15-year-old students around the world.
Whole system under review
Cardy also announced a broader education review, which includes a plan to improve French second-language programming.
The provincial government will hold a summit Oct. 16 to 18 to get more input and ideas on how to improve the entire education system. The department is preparing a paper outlining where the education system currently stands and the goals for the future, which will be released next month, Cardy said.
Both anglophone and francophone school districts will participate, as well as international education experts.
This will be the first time the francophone and anglophone sectors will be brought together to talk about the education system in a comprehensive way, Cardy said.
"We need to hear from both sectors and we need to have both sectors talking more with each other."
The public will be invited to give input on all aspects of the system, including classroom composition, student engagement and the preparedness of graduating students.
Cardy said the responsibility for the province's education system isn't one-way.
"This is a societal project around education, and that means that parents have a responsibility to send their kids to school, they have to stay in school and once they are there, the responsibility on the government side we give them the world-class education."
Classroom composition, teacher shortages
George Daley, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said he's happy to hear the entry point isn't being changed this year.
"I think there will be some relief from a good deal of our membership knowing that we've got a bit of stability from the last two years."
Still, Daley said he thinks problems in education, including class composition and violence in the classroom, are too pressing to wait until the summit.
"The forum that they are talking about is a good idea, but I don't particularly want to wait until October to deal with these issues," Daley said.
"Whether it's French immersion or regular English classrooms, if we don't have effective class composition and appropriate learning environment no learning is going to go on in those rooms."
Daley said the association will be looking to government to provide support for recruitment of both French and English teachers.
He said there were teaching positions this year that had to be filled by contracted local permit teachers, not enough certified teachers were available.
Local permit teachers are teachers who do not hold a Bachelor of Education degree but have a minimum of two years of post secondary education.
That was a first in his career, Daley said. Supply-teaching lists across the province also had to be opened up to local permit teachers.
Cardy said that recruiting more teachers is something the province is looking at, but the key issue is that there aren't enough students pursuing education degrees in the province.
He suggested the recruiting strategy will be part of a larger discussion around immigration and attracting teachers from outside the province.
With files from Shane Fowler and Shift