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Concerns mounting as another consultation under way on French Immersion

Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton, shown here during her provincial election campaign last fall with New Brunswick Green Party leader David Coon and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, is questioning the Progressive Conservatives' consultation process on the French Immersion program.
Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton, left, shown here during her provincial election campaign last fall with New Brunswick Green Party leader David Coon and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, is questioning the Progressive Conservatives' consultation process on the French Immersion program. - Contributed

Local MLA troubled over provincial government’s review of entry point

SACKVILLE, N.B. —

Frustration is setting in around the province as the debate over New Brunswick’s French Immersion program returns to the table and politicians once again ponder whether changes need to be made.

Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton said people in her riding are getting tired of government interference and constant changes to the education system every time a new party is elected.

“Constituents have been contacting me to tell me that they don’t want to see the French Immersion entry point changed again and that they are frustrated to see this issue surface once again, as it has with every government for over a decade,” said Mitton.

The Progressive Conservatives announced last week it was seeking feedback from parents, teachers and the public on how to address serious concerns that have been raised about the French Immersion program. A brief survey was launched as part of the public consultation process, allowing New Brunswickers to evaluate the current program.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy stated last week that, given the challenges associated with the ongoing implementation of the program which currently starts in Grade 1 – including teacher shortages and assessment results - all options are being considered, including a review of the entry point.

Mitton said she questions, however, whether the online survey is designed to lead participants toward an already-foregone conclusion, switching the entry point back to Grade 3 – and she has been hearing complaints from her constituents about the same.

“Regardless of whether one thinks we should have a survey on this issue, one would hope that the survey would be unbiased,” she said. “The statistics used in the survey are presented in a biased way. The expert analysis that I have read about the survey has outlined the many problems with how the information and questions were presented, and it calls into question whether the results can be trusted.”

Chuck Chiasson, the Liberal critic for Education, also weighed in on the survey, saying “it is very evident in looking at the online survey that is part of this so-called consultation that the questions are very biased towards the result that Mr. Cardy seeks to obtain.”

Mitton also questions whether the process will include consultations with educators and if the provincial government will look at other ways to improve the program.

While Mitton acknowledges there is “certainly room for improvement” within the French Immersion program in New Brunswick, she is concerned that the discussion around the issue is not focused on the right things and that there is a lot of misinformation out there. She noted that the auditor general recently reported that government needs to stop interfering and specifically called attention to the constant changes in the French Immersion entry points.

“When we keep changing the program, it makes it difficult to evaluate the program and see what is and isn’t working. It also makes it difficult on teachers to have the system change regularly.”

Mitton said the Progressive Conservatives’ claims about the lack of qualified teachers for Grades 1 and 2 immersion are also misleading.

“There are teachers who were hired to teach French Immersion who did not have the highest French-language proficiency on the scale but were at a very high level. It seems to me that one option would be to offer language training to help these teachers move up one level in their French language skills. I would like to see more discussion about how to resolve this issue.”

She also believes that improvements can be made to the program overall, such as improving access and adding resources, as well as providing more opportunities for students to continue studying French in high school.

Cardy said the government will be looking at best practices nationally and internationally to work towards the ultimate goal of improving the education system and giving all students the opportunity to graduate with the ability to speak conversationally in both official languages.

People are asked to submit their surveys, along with additional comments and questions, by March 31. Feedback may be submitted through the provincial government’s consultation website or by emailing consultation.eecd-edpe@gnb.ca

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