New Brunswick parents react to French education changes

New Brunswick parents react to French education changes

Parents are growing concerned as New Brunswick prepares to make sweeping changes to classrooms across the province over the next year.

“It completely takes away the choice from parents,” said Joe Pascon, whose son is immersed in French and whose daughter will join the new framework next year as a first-grade student.

It is billed as an innovative immersion program for all students entering Kindergarten and 1st grade. The children now spend 50 percent of their day doing research in French and the other half in English classes.

“My son started immersing himself in French in 1st grade,” Pascon said. “He’s doing well and we really wanted our daughter to do that and now it’s going to be a very different experience for her and from what it sounds like they have about four lessons a day and half of that will be French, so you’re just adding an extra French lesson.”

The government said it spent two years developing this new framework.

“It didn’t just spring up out of nowhere,” said Bill Hogan, Secretary of State for Education and Early Childhood Development. “We once had a model that ran at Bathurst for about 10 years and had extremely successful results that actually exceeded what we are seeing in our early immersion results today.”

Added, “I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about parents no longer having to decide whether their children should enroll in a Year 1 French immersion program when they’re unsure whether to attend or not be successful.”

He says this is a big challenge for parents and children in the province, but this program will address the needs of all students in all grades.

But for the parents we spoke to, it still feels like a compulsion.

“It seems like the government doesn’t really listen to people, they’re just trying to force that on our children,” Pascon said.

“It just looks like it’s more of a money saving program and won’t help anyone because they just want full classrooms,” he added. “They repeat that in many of their information cards.”

For his family, this means a huge gap between their daughter’s education in the new frame model and their son, who is already happy and successful in French immersion.

Since Thursday’s announcement, many New Brunswickers have taken to social media with comments ranging from optimism about the new program to anger.

“With every pilot project, we’re actually using children as an experiment,” said Christina Robichaud, who has two daughters who are currently learning French.

She says her younger daughter is already not getting the French education she expected at a pilot program school in Moncton. She added that if she had children going to school next year, she would fight to get them into the francophone district rather than the anglophone one.

“We speak solidly and exclusively to the anglophone district, but we still have our francophone district, so we’re chopping up and dismantling our anglophone school system, so francophone students now have a much greater advantage,” she said.

The government says the aim is for all students to graduate with a conversational level in French.

“If we set our bar low, how do we move forward in terms of opportunities for them,” asked Robichaud.

Public consultations will take place until the end of January, both through an online survey and in person.

“We’re going to have people on both sides who have concerns, I recognize that, and as a parent I understand how difficult that is,” Hogan said.

However, he says the framework will evolve and what it will look like in everyday use is still up for debate.

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