Friday, March 14, 2008

French immersion and Core French in New Brunswick to be slashed

I'm shocked over the full extent of cuts to French-as-a-second-language instruction announced in New Brunswick today. Not only is the province doing away with its early immersion programs that commenced in Grade 1 (which had been hinted at earlier), but it's also slashing core French-as-a-second-language as well, delaying any introduction to the French language until Grade 5. Understandably, the official opposition and parents groups such as Canadian Parents for French are outraged. Canadian Parents for French New Brunswick has some very interesting and troubling observations about the report that led to this decision here.

I am gobsmacked by this decision. Virtually all of the studies that I've read on second-language acquisition stress the idea that it is best to start children as early as possible on their second language. But it appears that someone has managed to put a study on Education Minister Kelly Lamrock's desk that justifies his decision. I can't help but wonder if this is a cost-cutting measure disguised as a pedagogic decision. Itinerant FSL specialists who teach the core French courses represent an additional cost for school boards, who will now only have to pay for the regular teachers to give instruction in art and phys-ed. French immersion requires small class sizes, which again, can be expensive.

The stated rationale for the decision - that 91% of students who began French immersion had dropped out by the end of high school - doesn't necessarily strike me as a good reason to switch from early immersion to late immersion that starts in Grade 6. Rather, it suggests that there are more systemic problems with the manner in which the curriculum is structured. Indeed, one could just as easily make the case that large numbers of students drop math and science once they fulfill their high school requirements, and yet we aren't seeing proposals to remedy this situation by starting students in intensive math at the Grade 5 level.

There is something rotten in the province of New Brunswick, and it smacks of double-speak. Eliminating early exposure to the French language is highly unlikely to produce a province in which 70% of high school graduates speak fluent French. Quebec, after years of prohibiting English-as-a-second-language classes for francophone students prior to Grade 4, has finally returned to a system of starting second language classes in Grade 1. Why, one must ask, is New Brunswick heading in the other direction?

Update: It wasn't always like this in New Brunswick. For a bit of history on how the New Brunswick government once viewed French immersion, I've added this post.

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At 5:34 pm, Anonymous  said...

As a 1 1/2 lingualphone, English and Frenchish, I have supply taught in both French Immersion and core French classes in the Toronto area. I do notice the differences in attitudes between students in French Immersion and core French. The FI students seem to accept learning French and they perform well at their grade level. The students who start taking core French in grade four (in Ontario) seem to have negative attitudes about learning French. By the time they are in grade eight, they can hardly utter "Bonjour, comment ça va?" They can't think of a spontaneous question and answer in a simple converation. After completing grade nine French, most will drop the subject. If they complete grade 12 French, they still will not be functionally bilingual.

I do have a complaint about the group, Canadian Parents for French. While they have advocated fiercely for French Immersion, they seem to have forgotten about the majority of students who take core French. I am guessing that if they are parents, most of their children take or have taken French Immersion. They are advocating on behalf of their children.

The problem with the teaching of French is that their are not enough qualified French as a Second Language teachers. If New Brunswick wants to improve the performance of students who take core French by offering one year of intensive French in grade five or six, then those teachers need to teach the intensive courses will need to come from the French Immersion program. It's the supply and demand economics of teaching and learning French.

At 5:40 pm, Blogger Matt said...

As a product of the Ontario core French system (as it existed in the 80s), I agree with many of your concerns. But I think that the main problems with core French stem from the haphazard way in which it has been taught in many jurisdictions and, as you note, the shortage of qualified teachers. For decades, pedagogical experts and the Commissioner of Official Languages argued that core was being taught in a way that produced frustration - but stated that if more time per day was spent on the program, with more qualified teachers, the situation would improve.

CPF has long been split between those who prioritize French immersion - where their children are enrolled - and a smaller rump who keep trying to get the organization to look at core FSL as well. CPF does lobby for core French, but as a second-tier priority.

At 6:08 pm, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

After this goes through, Alberta will officially have a far more extensive French programme than New Brunswick, both in terms of immersion programmes and core French. Is no one in our only officially bilingual province ashamed of this?

At 7:24 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 1:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am disheartened by the decision. Pushing back the start date of French language instruction (core or immersion) means missing out on particularly formative learning years. Furthermore, it does not fit the linguistic situation in much of New Brunswick. Anglophone kids in Bathurst who play hockey, for example, will likely have team-mates and coaches who conduct their instruction in French. Shouldn't those children have some formal language instruction to help them along?

If politicians want to tinker with the system, then they should work on attracting more qualified French teachers and on making learning French more appealing to students.

They also need to reconsider their measures of success at foreign language acquisition. From my point of view, students labeled as "fluent" or "bilingual" coming out of high school, flounder all to frequently when they get to French
courses at university. How is this going to get better with the current cuts to the French language instruction?

At 4:54 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to know exactly where these 1500 students, the report speaks of, are from!!! Anybody can come up with numbers to suit there own agenda.
Also, it should be known that the resources for the French Immersion teachers pales in comparison to what all other teachers receive in the province. Maybe the 4 to 5 million dollars being used to train teachers on the new curriculum would be better spent on resources sorely needed in the French department!

At 1:46 am, Blogger Julien Morissette said...

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At 12:46 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it is not very sexy, but the language issue is overiding an important aspect of education in the school systems in NB, the notion of inclusion. The composition of non-immersion classes is atrocious compared to the frankly more intelligent immersion classes. A defacto two-tiered system by any other name. So as you can imagine the French school districts don't have this streaming effect. So from a budgetary point of view why pay for 3 education systems when there is officially only supposed to be 2 ?

At 6:40 pm, Anonymous prof du français intensif said...

Perhaps many of you who post your comments here should do a little research and have some experience with the different ways french is and was taught in the NB anglophone districts. The now former 'core' french was discouraging to kids, because they could not hold a conversation in french from the way they were learning what little tidbits of french they were learning (vocabulary mostly). French immersions students are NOT more intellegent, only more often the students whose learning style loans itself better to the structure of our system of education; students in the FI classes tend to find it easier to sit in a 'traditional' class with 'traditional' teaching strategies being employed. The Intensive French program makes perfect sense, in that basically it teaches students a second language much as they learned their mother tongue. When you learned to speak, did your mother (father, whoever) sit you down and say, 'ok, let's talk about simple machines, and after we talk I want you to read this book'. I doubt it. Or did she say things like 'Hi baby!', 'What's your name?' 'Want your cup?', simple phrases, focussed on the child, and interesting to them so they listen and want to learn how to respond and converse! It starts out with oral language, and when they can speak, then they start to understand that thte letters and words on paper represent the spoken language, and eventually they write what they hear and say. It's so logical, it just works eh?
So, anyway, I could go on and on, but my point is this - don't dis something until you educate yourself.


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