The government will not go ahead with its French immersion reform planned for this autumn after widespread criticism of the plan to reduce French teaching.
Prime Minister Blaine Higgs proposed reducing the hours English system kindergarten and primary school pupils spend learning French from around 90% of the French immersion school day to 50% by the start of the 2023 school year.
The government wanted students to reach a ‘conversational’ level of French.
Parents and teachers have spoken out against these changes in recent weeks.
Education Secretary Bill Hogan said Friday the government would not implement the plan.
“I thought our announced model was a really good idea, I still think it could work really well in some situations. But what we found is that it was not in the interest of our children,” the minister said.
He says he is “not disappointed” at the rejection of his plan by the English-speaking education community.
The provincial government signals its willingness to “work together” with parents, students and the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association to make further changes to the English education system.
“The system in its current form is leaving behind a large number of students and we are committed to addressing the issues that are causing this. […] This is not the end but the beginning of a positive and lasting change.”
Minister Hogan says these changes could come slowly. Some will arrive later this year, others will wait until next school year.
“It won’t happen anytime soon because there are a lot of things to talk about. We will continue until we reach a point where we are confident that we can provide the best education possible for all of our students.
Blaine Higgs said in early February his plan was not set in stone. However, during last week’s state of the province address, he seemed intent on sticking to his changes. He then recalled the shortcomings of the French immersion system, particularly the fact that about a third of schools do not offer the program, which puts many students at a disadvantage.
“We are not making any decisions based on the next elections. We make decisions based on next generations,” he said.
Secretary Bill Hogan declined to discuss discussions he had with the Prime Minister on the matter. L’Acadie Nouvelle asked the Prime Minister for a statement, but to no avail.
The opposition relieved
Liberal leader Susan Holt had opposed immersion reform proposed by the Higgs administration and promised to resume the program if elected.
“I feel relieved. I think Secretary Hogan and his team have reconsidered and decided to change the plan. I appreciate that.”
“I’m glad they finally started listening. I think public pressure was really important in this decision. It was absolutely clear that parents, teachers, students and experts said it didn’t make sense,” said Megan Mitton, Green MP.
Higgs must resign “for the good of the party,” Cardy believes
Dominic Cardy, a former education secretary who left Blaine Higgs’ cabinet in October after a disagreement with the prime minister over ending immersion, says the prime minister should resign “for the good of the party” over this failed reform. He accuses her of making decisions based on her feelings and not on facts.
“He had all the necessary data, a large file that was in front of him. He decided he had a better perspective than any of his experts. It is now clear that he was wrong. I think a leader needs to take responsibility for these decisions.”
He also claims that the government’s about-face was not surprising.
“The Prime Minister’s efforts to eliminate French immersion this year have still been impossible. We didn’t have the human resources to do that. I’m glad the government abandoned this incredibly badly done plan.
Federal Minister for Official Languages Ginette Petitpas Taylor underscored popular mobilization during the consultations and welcomed the provincial government’s decision to reverse its decision.
“The immersion program currently offered throughout the province of New Brunswick has proven itself and brings together all the conditions conducive to learning,” she says.