This isn’t the first time I’ve shared my opinion on this province’s early French Immersion program, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. This week, the education minister announced that “the French Immersion entry point will be part of the review” his department is conducting, which includes a public online survey that “allows the public to evaluate the current French immersion program.”
I have so many concerns about this I honestly don’t know where to begin. The wording of the survey. The fact I was able to fill it out multiple times. The lack of understanding among the public about the various programs in place today and how they contrast to previous programs. The disrespect this shows to so many educators, parents, and more. The divides that this deepens in our province. For today, let’s focus just on the first question of the survey.
“According to the Auditor General, of the 1,624 students who entered into an early immersion program in 2005, only 10% achieved the goal of advanced or above by the end of grade 12 in 2017. How important is it to you that all New Brunswick children are given the opportunity to graduate with at least a conversational level of ability in both official languages?”
Judging by this, the province is measuring the success of early entry immersion on the number of Grade 12 students who can score “advanced or above” (it doesn’t say advanced or above what, I’m assuming it means a bilingual proficiency test). The program has been in place for just 16 months. Any data presented about Grade 12 proficiency scores is related to a different program. Apples and oranges, in my opinion, but let’s keep it in mind.
Our daughter is in Grade 2 French Immersion, one of first group of students experiencing the current version of this program. She has spent 16 months in an early French immersion classroom. In that time, her verbal proficiency has already far exceeded all of what I learned in nine years of classroom French instruction in my school years. I’ve listened to her carry on conversations, in French, with both adults and children she’s met in public. Not her classmates, not her teacher. Actually using her language skills as they are intended to be used. She might not pass an official bilingual test yet, but she’s functional and constantly improving. But what will that look like in 2029, when she’s set to graduate?
She spends 90% of her class time speaking French now. Next year, in Grade 3, the program drops down to 80% classroom time in French. By Grades 9 and 10 it’s 50%, and in her final two years of school, based on the current curriculum, she and all the other early French Immersion students will have just 25% of their classtime in French – provided our non-urban school has enough students enrolled to meet the requirements for these classes to be offered. I’m no expert, but I’m going to guess that many of the early immersion kids who have their French speaking time drop that much in their high school years will have trouble being “advanced or above” on a test, but will be proficient and prepared to live a bilingual life if they so choose. That sounds like success to me.
Do I believe our education system is failing some students and teachers? Yes. Do I think we need more qualified French Immersion teachers? Yes. Do I think it would ideal for every New Brunswick child to graduate high school with a conversational level of ability in both our official languages? Yes. Will flip-flopping on the immersion entry point make it all better? No.
A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said. For a more in-depth analysis of the format of the province’s survey questions, read this open letter by Isabelle Agnew. You might also enjoy reading this column: