Friday, March 28, 2008

French immersion, Special Education and Elitism

Try again, Kelly Lamrock. The latest line being spun by New Brunswick's Education Minister is that early French immersion needs to be cut in order to allow the province to devote more resources to children with special education needs, who are heavilly concentrated in the English-only stream.

Once again, the minister is muddled on cause and effect, and proposing a half-baked solution. He is certainly correct that children with special education needs are concentrated in the English-only stream, rather than in French immersion. But his explanation for why this situation exists is that Immersion is a program for the elite, and that children with special needs are streamed out of the program. The reality is somewhat different. Having spoken with French immersion and FSL teachers in New Brunswick, I know that the bigger problem is that the New Brunswick Department of Education has concentrated its special education specialists in the English-only program, and doesn't assign them, by and large, to French immersion schools. Teachers in the French immersion schools are therefore deprived of the resources to help address the needs of these children.

Studies of French immersion education, meanwhile, have determined that children with special needs can thrive in an immersion environment, if they are given comparable supports to those students in the English-only program. If Lamrock is truly committed to dealing with the apparent streaming of special needs students out of French immersion, he would find a way to dedicate more resources to special needs children in the immersion stream, so their parents would not have to switch them out. One way of making this possible, incidentally, would be through the federal grants provided to all provinces under the Official Languages in Education Program, which provides support for the additional costs associated with second language instruction and minority language education. New Brunswick could make a strong case for the financial costs of addressing these special needs in the immersion stream. Let's hope that someone in the province starts thinking creatively and logically about how to solve the very real problems in the education system, rather than adopting a slash-and-burn policy that could destroy the progress that has been made in the last four decades.

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At 10:39 pm, Anonymous Christina Taylor said...

Wish you were our Education Minister.

At 6:36 am, Blogger Lisa W. said...

Hear, the parent of one of those children who have special needs, I can attest to the fact that the resources for her to attend EFI are non-existent (I have also worked in an EFI school - the first thing that happens when kids have trouble? Send 'em to English...because there are no resources!

Now they want to shove her into this "Intensive French" in grade five in five months with the same lack of resources. Not going to happen...

Thank you for writing this, the more people who call this government out on their actions, the better. I'm in 5th year university; if I tried to pass in a report like the one he's using to make this major social reform, I'd get an 'F'!


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