Open Letter to Premier Shawn Graham

Wednesday, 02 April 2008 19:00

Premier GrahamDear Mr. Premier,

I would like to express my concern regarding the recent cuts to New Brunswick's French Immersion Program.

What you have done, Mr. Premier, is lowered the bar. Instead of having proficiency targets of Advanced for Early Immersion Students, the target for students in the proposed Late Immersion Program will be Intermediate Plus. Once a lower standard is in place, programming doesn’t have to be as good, does it, Mr. Premier?

Allow me to use an analogy to explain. Let’s say my goal is to exercise every day, but I find myself exercising only once a week. So, I change my goal to exercise once every two weeks and suddenly I am surpassing my goal! However, I certainly will not be physically fit.

Rather than lowering standards, Mr. Premier, I would suggest that a better way to increase the percentage of Anglophone students reaching proficiency targets would be to identify areas in which the program fails and to improve in these areas.

My example of physical fitness brings me to my next point. The Department of Education’s news release of March 14, 2008, states that the gained instructional time from the elimination of Core French at the elementary grades will be used for art, music, physical education, and enrichment opportunities. I do not disagree that art, music, and physical education are important for a child’s development. But, why can’t we offer students French, art, music, and physical education? These subjects could be taught in French. Voilà! A simple, effective solution to the problem, which would likely not cause thousands of your constituents’ blood to boil.

Have you considered the implications of the decision to eliminate Early Immersion to the future of New Brunswick? Not only will Canada’s only bilingual province also be the only province without an Early French Immersion program, you have made a conscious decision that will lead to a population that is less able to communicate amongst itself. Let me remind you, Mr. Premier, that according to the changes, Anglophone students will no longer achieve Advanced proficiency; they will only achieve Intermediate Plus proficiency. Therefore, Anglophone New Brunswickers will be less able to communicate with their Francophone neighbours, further dividing linguistic communities in the province. Furthermore, because a large number of Francophones are bilingual, uni-lingual Anglophones will miss out on employment and advancement opportunities because they cannot speak a second language.

One criticism of the Early French Immersion program is that it is elitist. I would argue that the Department of Education and schools across the province have brought this stereotype upon themselves. What is the first thing that happens when a child in Early Immersion does poorly in school or has behavioural problems? Why, he or she is transferred out of the Early Immersion program, even if he or she was not having any problems with French! This very quickly leads to a situation where the well-behaved children who get good grades are primarily in the Immersion classes, while the poor non-Immersion teachers are asked to teach all those with learning disabilities, behavioural problems, etc. This problem can be resolved very easily by eliminating transfers out of the program, precipitated either by the school or by the parents (recommendation 2b in the report) and by giving French Immersion teachers the tools and resources they need to teach children of all abilities.

I understand the desire to streamline the Immersion program based on considerations both financial and academic. However, why does the proposed program have children starting so late? It has been proven time and time again that the earlier a child is exposed to a language, the better he or she will learn it. If a child does not hear a word of French until he or she is 10 years old, it is simply too late. If they cannot start in Grade 1, why not start them in Grade 3 or 4? Furthermore, if children were exposed to French in the early years (K-2) (for example, during art or music class as I suggested above), they would develop an ear for the language, facilitating their transition to French Immersion in Grade 3 or 4.

Mr. Premier, there are many things that could be done to improve the system already in place, instead of scrapping it for a totally different program. Were these alternatives considered? If not, I strongly suggest they be considered. If so, I would like to know the rationale for disregarding these options in favour of the proposed program.

I leave you with one more question, Mr. Premier. Are you prepared to lose the next election on this issue?

Yours sincerely,
Raissa Marks

Image: Province of New Brunswick Premier's Office

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