The Current

Ottawa's mandatory French immersion worries parents of special needs kids

Starting soon, mandatory 50/50 French immersion will set a base level of bilingual skills for children in Ottawa. And while it's the kind of program parents elsewhere in the country might envy, there's been a backlash over the changes in the nation's capital.
Parents with special needs children are upset with the decision by the Ottawa school board to make french immersion mandatory for all kindergarten students because they believe without special resources, their kids will suffer long-term from the stress of learning a second language. (Jean-Christophe/AFP/Getty Images)
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Across the country, French immersion programs are in high demand.

On Feb. 9, 2016, Ottawa's English school board announced that all kindergarten children — both junior and senior — will be taught half in English, and half in French.

It seems like a practical idea in a city like Ottawa. But not everyone is pleased about the change. 

We are concerned about the lack of resources because it's difficult enough to get French resources as it is, and you can't find the personnel, so the system currently is flawed and now you are adding this other layer.- Peter Giuliani of the Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario

Much of the opposition to mandatory French immersion in kindergarten is coming from parents who don't think this is a good option for all kids and resent that they won't have the choice of English-only. That is especially the case for those who have kids with special needs. Learning a second language can be stressful and effect self-esteem and without enough resources, they risk falling behind.

Guests in this segment:

  • Jennifer Adams, director of education for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
  • Fred Genesee, language acquisition expert at Montreal's McGill University.
  • Jessica Hetherington, parent of Gray who has a speech impairment and will start JK in September.

What do you think? Is mandatory French immersion in kindergarten a good way to introduce more children to a second language? Would this be a good choice for your kids? 

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This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry and Marc Apollonio.