June 19th, 2024

New Brunswick scraps controversial overhaul of French immersion in province’s schools

By The Canadian Press on February 17, 2023.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs delivers the State of the Province address in Fredericton, N.B. on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. New Brunswick says it will not move ahead with its controversial French-language education reform following widespread public criticism of the plan to reduce French teaching in schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

FREDERICTON – A New Brunswick parents group says the government’s decision to abandon a controversial French-language education reform planned for this fall is a major win for the province.

Education Minister Bill Hogan announced Friday that the government would not proceed with proposed cuts to the hours kindergarten and elementary students in the English system spend learning in French – from about 90 per cent of the day in French immersion to 50 per cent.

The plan from Blaine Higgs’ Progressive Conservative government was met with widespread public criticism and calls from opposition parties and parents to change course.

“This is a dramatic reversal. It’s one that needed to be made,” Chris Collins, the executive director of Canadian Parents for French New Brunswick, said in an interview.

“This is great news for French immersion, it’s great news for French second-language training and it’s great news for bilingualism in Canada’s only officially bilingual province.”

Hogan said that government reconsidered its plan after hearing from nearly 13,000 New Brunswickers who participated in consultation sessions over the past month.

“To be honest, I really thought the framework we announced was a great idea. I still think that. And in certain cases it could work very well,” the minister told reporters.

“However, what we found out was that it’s not in the best interest of all our children,” he continued.

Hogan said the province will establish a group representing the provincial teachers associations, experts from the education system and parents in order to decide the next steps. He declined to say when those next steps will be made public.

The minister says that in light of the change, French immersion registration will be reopened for students starting school in the fall.

Hogan said that despite the reversal, he still feels the existing French immersion program isn’t meeting standards, and the province’s goal remains to ensure that all high school graduates are equipped with conversational French.

Collins agrees that the education system needs work and said he’s hopeful that these next steps will address weaknesses that include math, science and literacy scores, while ensuring students have a strong French-language program.

“I think there’s now an opportunity here for us to improve the entire system and improve the quality of graduates we’re putting out, which will lead to a much better province from an economic standpoint, and from the contributions of these students to our province in the future,” he said.

Collins said he is thankful to the thousands of parents and teachers who made their voices heard, and he gave credit to the government for listening to their concerns.

“It’s an exciting day, I’m beside myself,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2023.

– By Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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