New Brunswick

French immersion reform 'won't be easy'

New Brunswickers must prepare for another angst-filled period as the Department of Education again reviews the entry point for early French immersion, according to an expert.
The N.B. government is appointing a four-person task force to study the early entry point in the French immersion system 2:18

New Brunswickers must prepare for another angst-filled period as the Department of Education again reviews the entry point for early French immersion, according to an expert.

The former Liberal government ignited a contentious debate in 2008 when it announced that early French immersion would be scrapped.

A string of massive protests and a court decision forced the Liberals to backtrack and ultimately keep the program and move the early entry point to Grade 3 from Grade 1.

Joseph Dicks, the director of the Second Language Research Institute of Canada at the University of New Brunswick, said the research is clear, the earlier a student is immersed in a second language, the more bilingual they will be.

Dicks warned the last government that it was moving too fast on its early French immersion reforms without enough public input.

Joseph Dicks, a UNB expert, said he expects an angst-filled debate over the early French immersion program. (CBC)
The UNB expert said he hopes the Progressive Conservative government will be different, but he is also warning that reopening the debate could create an uneasy time for many parents and people concerned about the education system.

"It won’t be easy. There was a lot of angst last time, there will be again," Dicks said.

"So we have to make sure if we are going to go down that road, we have to do it seriously and we have to take the time."

Education Minister Jody Carr announced on Wednesday that Elvy Robichaud, a former Progressive Conservative education minister, and James Lockyer, a former Liberal education minister, were appointed to the four-person task force that will review the entry point to the early French immersion system.

The task force will begin a series of public meetings on Nov. 1.

The public consultations will feed into the task force’s final report, which is expected in early 2012. The Department of Education may have the reforms in place for September 2012.

‘It’s kind of too late’

The news that the early French immersion program will be reviewed again is creating mixed reviews with some parents.

Lori Doucet has watched her daughters go through both the Grade 1 and the Grade 3 entry point.

The Department of Education moved the early French immersion entry point to Grade 3 from Grade 1 in 2008. (CBC)
She said the review is great, but "for me it’s kind of too late."

Doucet said she understands that the later entry point may help some students.

"But for me personally, early immersion was far and away the superior program," Doucet said.

"Even with the speaking, by the time my daughter got to Grade 3 she was already bilingual, she could speak French, write French and was reading French. Now I feel we are almost playing catch-up."

Despite the controversy, Kelly Lamrock, the former education minister who started the immersion debate in 2008, said he stands behind his decisions.

He said the proposal was always intended to boost literacy rates and he said that has happened.

"The first class that went through without streaming has the highest literacy score we've ever recorded in New Brunswick. We did that because we put more money into the system and we did stop streaming kids in Grade 1," Lamrock said.

"If there's going to be a change in the entry point, I certainly hope they don't do it in a period where they're cutting education but that's something the commissioners will have to wrestle with."