Proposed immersion plan faces criticism from teachers, parents

    Bill Hogan, New Brunswick's minister of education and early childhood development, addresses reporters at the Delta Fredericton on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Giuliana Grillo de Lambarri/AQ)

    As a proud Acadian mother, Sandra Kell wants her children to be able to thrive as bilinguals, but New Brunswick’s proposed changes to replace French immersion leads her to feel concerned.

    “The watering down of our French-speaking population is really going to affect the future of the francophone generations,” she said.

    Government officials held their final public consultation for the plan to replace French immersion on Jan. 25 at the Delta Fredericton, where they were met by a crowd of parents, teachers and students who opposed the changes. 

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    The proposed replacement would mean elementary school students in New Brunswick’s anglophone districts would spend half of the school day learning in English and the other half in French. 

    Once students reach middle school, the amount of time spent learning in French would drop to 40 per cent, while time spent being taught in English would increase to 60 per cent.

    Bill Hogan, New Brunswick’s minister of education and early childhood development, told the crowd at the Delta Fredericton that the purpose of the consultation was to get feedback from parents and teachers.

    “I’m interested in what you see as the positives and the negatives in areas for growth in the proposed French immersion model,” he said. 

    During the open mic, 34 speakers, including Kell, voiced their criticisms of the proposed plan. 

    While Kell’s children go to a French school in Fredericton, she said her nieces and nephews planned to enter French immersion once they started Grade 1. 

    A crowd of parents, teachers and students participated in public consultations at the Delta Fredericton on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Giuliana Grillo de Lambarri/AQ)

    “Because there’s already two separate school districts, [francophone kids] are quite far removed from other kids,” she said. “I feel that it’s a big disservice to just the entire bilingualism aspect of our province.”

    Heather Hollett, an educator in Anglophone School District West, which covers most public schools in central and western New Brunswick, said it is concerning how creative subjects are left behind in the proposed changes.

    “If 50 per cent of the day to be dedicated to literacy and math instruction in English, and 50 per cent of the day has to be dedicated to French language instruction, where would subjects such as physical education, art and music fit in?” she said. 

    “The logistical realities … make the promise of maintaining delivery of the current Grade 1 French immersion curriculum 50 per cent of the time uninformed and untrue.”

    Hollett is also concerned about how dismantling French immersion could supposedly improve the resource allocation between school districts. According to the Government of New Brunswick, 93 per cent of students with personalized learning programs (PLP) are in English prime — meaning there is a gap in the education system when it comes to access to inclusive public education. 

    “Dismantling our system feels akin to remodelling a kitchen and, instead of pouring resources into improving the kitchen, it’s decided that the entire house must be taken apart,” she said. 

    Hollett called out a lack of professional learning opportunities for teachers in the proposed plan, arguing educators need time to learn a new curriculum and develop new teaching methods. 

    “Teachers are expected to consider the individual needs of our students and to personalize our students’ learning every single day,” she said. 

    “We, as teachers, are not able to make a blanket approach to our teaching … I cannot see how a one-size-fits-all approach can be acceptable.”

    Donna McLaughlin, a retired teacher, said the new pressure to learn a new curriculum in such a small window of time is not okay. She also wants to see the research that supports the changes and why teachers haven’t been involved.

    “Focus on supporting our teachers … If you need to keep buying them classes, do so. If you need to increase support for crying teachers, do so,” she said. 

    “We haven’t seen the research that you are proposing. [Minister Hogan has] yet to mention who your experts are,” said McLaughlin.