Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Bill Hogan addresses the media on Dec. 15. GNB Photo

New Brunswick Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Bill Hogan face a new year of change. 

The most significant change awaits the start of the 2023-24 school year in September and the replacement of early French immersion in kindergarten and Grade 1 with the proposed New Brunswick Innovative Immersion Program. 

While acknowledging the change is the first step towards replacing the existing immersion program over the long term, Hogan told the River Valley Sun that the final objective is to address inherent problems in the current system while still promoting French education in the anglophone school system. 

He stressed the changes would not affect students already studying in the French immersion system. 

Hogan said the new program’s goal is to see all students learn conversational French at a minimum and address the streaming problem, which denies equal access for some students, created by the existing immersion program. 

The minister said the new French-language-training program would not reduce opportunities for students who desire enhanced training. 

“There’s going to be opportunities as they move up in years to enrich their French experience,” he said. 

Hogan said the province is not introducing the new program sight unseen. He said it builds on a program tried in Bathurst for the past decade, which exceeded French immersion results. 

“This is not something we pulled out of a hat,” he said.

The department introduced the new program during a press conference and statement on Dec. 15. 

Starting in September, kindergarten and Grade 1 students will spend 50 per cent of their day engaged in exploratory learning in French to foster strong literacy skills in that language. The other half will be taught in English on subjects such as math, reading and writing. 

Allowing for differences in delivery and depending upon the demographics of communities, the framework aims to provide students with early, high-quality instruction using a balanced approach.

Hogan said the government would allow further input from parents and other members of the public. While he faces backlash, he said he expects those conversations to be part of the upcoming consultations in January. 

A series of virtual and in-person consultations will take place throughout January on the proposed framework. The in-person consultation sessions will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the following dates in the following communities: 

— Jan. 17 – Bathurst;

— Jan. 19 – Moncton; 

— Jan. 24 – Saint John;

— Jan. 25 – Fredericton.

The virtual sessions will take place on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. 

The minister acknowledged some parents feel the 50 per cent of classes in French in the new system reduces desired French training for their children. In contrast, other parents believe the 50-per cent French classes will hinder their children’s overall school development. 

“We’re always going to have those two extremes,” Hogan said. “Unfortunately, what we have now isn’t working. It creates inequality in our system.” 

While his government’s proposals address some of the streaming issues in the school system, Hogan said classroom composition issues remain. 

The minister recognizes the French-language changes put additional strain on staff levels and resources but said those challenges are not new to New Brunswick’s school system. 

Hogan said the department estimates a need for 60 additional teachers in September, which grows yearly. 

“It’s not a one-and-done type of thing,” he said, noting the department must find ways to recruit staff. 

Hogan said the department would monitor results on an ongoing basis. 

“We are going to start, and if something isn’t working, we’ll have to change it to something that works,” he said. 

Hogan said the department hopes to see more students graduate from high school capable of conversing in French. He said the system is unlikely to produce fluently bilingual graduates ready for a bilingual government job. 

“Students don’t graduate today and come to work for the government,” he said. “That’s a fallacy.

He said bilingual government jobs require post-secondary education, and high-school grads must maintain and enhance French training upon graduation. 

Hogan said the school system needs to work beyond the Innovative Immersion Program, including providing more opportunities to integrate New Brunswick’s different cultures. 

“I do realize learning and appreciating our cultures is important,” he said. “Goes for both cultures.” 

Hogan understands his department’s decisions are emotional for students and parents. 

The minister faced widespread public criticism for referring to a protesting elementary student involved in a Moncton pilot project as a political “prop.” 

Hogan said he didn’t direct that term towards the student but towards Chris Collins, executive director of Canadian Parents for French, who he believed “used” the student as a prop. 

He said he doesn’t deny the negative experiences of students and parents in the pilot project but added he talked to others with positive experiences in the same pilot project. 

Hogan added the Moncton pilot program is different than the one his department is implementing. 

Hogan, a former Woodstock High School principal, said education changes of any type could prove stressful for students and parents. But, added changes are required to keep up with changing times. 

“This is a new program, and we’re going to monitor it and make adjustments as we need to,” he said. 

By Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 23, 2022 at 08:32

This item reprinted with permission from   River Valley Sun   Woodstock, New Brunswick

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