New Brunswick

Report recommends elimination of early French immersion in N.B.

A government-commissioned review of French second-language education in New Brunswick has recommended the province do away with its early immersion program.

A government-commissioned review of French second-language education in New Brunswick has recommended the province do away with its early immersion program.

Commissioners Dr. James Croll and Patricia Lee released their review of the programs, including 18 recommendations, to the public on Wednesday.

In their 101-page report, the commissioners state the early French immersion program, which currently begins in Grade 1, is not meeting its objectives and should be grandfathered out of the provincial education system. The program is also not sustainable because of dwindling enrolment and a high dropout rate, said the report.

The review examined French-language instruction between 1995 and 2006.

Currently, the core French curriculum is a non-immersion program that makes French a mandatory subject for students in Grade 1 to 10 and an elective subject in their upper high school years.

About 75 per cent of all New Brunswick students participate in that program.

But of the 4,063 children who enrolled in it when they started school in 1995, approximately 187 continued through to their high school graduation in 2006 and only 28, or 0.68 per cent, met the provincial objectives of intermediate oral proficiency.

The program costs New Brunswick about $10.3 million annually.

"Clearly, the core program isn't doing very well," Croll told reporters at a press conference in Fredericton on Wednesday.

Few remain in immersion to Grade 12 

For the early French immersion program, the commissioners found that of the 1,469 students enrolled at the start of their elementary school education, only 554 continued through to Grade 12, and 15.93 per cent obtained the provincial target of advanced oral proficiency.

The program costs $4.6 million more a year than the standard annual cost of educating students.

New Brunswick's late-immersion program, which begins in Grade 6, was found to have about 1,535 students enrolled initially. By the time the students graduated high school, the number had dropped to 602 students, with 45.6 per cent meeting the provincial target of intermediate proficiency. It means 17.92 per cent of the original number of students met the objective at an annual operating cost of $7,000 per student.

The study also found that students enrolled in the core program in elementary school achieved better results in literary achievement testing than the students participating in the early immersion program.

New French program would begin in Grade 5

The report suggests adopting a new French-language system, which would begin in Grade 5 and offer a more intense focus on French.

It would be similar to the province's current intensive French pilot project, which is an alternative approach to second-language instruction that provides students in Grade 5 with the opportunity to have intensive language instruction for a five-month period.

The pilot project has shown that most students who enter the five-month program with a novice level of French have advanced to a basic understanding of the language and a conversational ability.

Under the new system, students would take 315 hours of their class time in French during Grade 5, covering all subjects with the exception of math.

The children would then have the choice of enrolling in a more extensive core French program or continuing with a late-immersion program beginning in Grade 6.

The new programs would continue until Grade 12. Students would have the option of taking math and science in either official language.

Later immersion appeals to more students and appears to be more effective, Croll said.

"Our sole direction is to increase the proficiency of our kids," Croll said.

The goal remains to ensure that 70 per cent of New Brunswick high school graduates are able to speak effectively in both official languages.

Croll said the commissioners don't believe they are recommending anything that would lessen New Brunswick's status as the only officially bilingual province in Canada.

The recommendations are not binding on the government.