N.B. students won't begin French until Grade 5

Students in New Brunswick's English schools will no longer learn French until they reach Grade 5.

Early French immersion, second-language education in early elementary school scrapped

Students in New Brunswick's English schools will no longer learn French until they reach Grade 5.

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock announced on Friday the government will accept the recommendations of a government-commissioned report on French language education.

"I fully realize that this is a very emotional issue for many New Brunswickers and that many people have differing thoughts and opinions on the approach government should be taking to improve French second-language learning and the system's overall performance," Lamrock said.

Beginning in September, parents will no longer be able to enrol their children in the early French immersion program.

The core French program, which currently makes the language a mandatory subject in school, beginning in Grade 1, will also be eliminated.

The 30 minutes of daily instruction currently offered to the students enroled in the core French program will be replaced with art, music and gym classes.

Report commissioners James Croll and Patricia Lee released 18 recommendations for the province's French second-language programs on Feb. 27, after reviewing the outcomes of French instruction for students who began school in 1995 and graduated in 2006.

The report found approximately 91 per cent of the 1,500 or so students who started early immersion in 1995 had dropped out of the program by the time they reached high school.

The study also found that only 0.68 per cent of the high school students that graduated in 2006 after completing the core program had reached the provincial objectives of intermediate oral proficiency.

'Our kids deserve better'

The Education Department's goal is to have 70 per cent of high school graduates speak fluent French.

The changes will provide a universally accessible system that will better serve all students and create an equal-access learning environment, Lamrock said.

Not starting French until Grade 5 will ensure that students have a solid foundation in literacy, math and science in English before learning a second language, said the minister.

"New Brunswick is ready to provide a quality second-language education to all students, which is far from currently the case," Lamrock said.

Students who begin their second-language training later in elementary school achieve better results, Lamrock said.

"If kids struggle, you shouldn't put all the kids that struggle together in one class," Lamrock said. "That means they don't get the attention they deserve. They don't learn their first language and they don't learn a second language and they fall through the cracks. Our kids deserve better."

The changes will also allow all students in New Brunswick to have equal access to seven years of second-language training regardless of their academic abilities, Lamrock said.

Students will have options in Grade 6

The new French program, which will begin in September, will see students get five months of intensive French in Grade 5.

Students will then have the option of either moving into a more extensive version of the current core-French program or entering a late-immersion program in Grade 6.

All French-language schooling will now also continue to Grade 12 with students having the option of taking math and science in either language.

The change will mean new resources and training for teachers, which is expected to cost between $4 million to $5 million over the next two years.

Students currently enroled in the early-immersion program, which begins in Grade 1, will be allowed to continue. Early immersion will be grandfathered out of the system.