March 20, 2019

Premier Blaine Higgs
Chancery Place
P. O. Box 6000
Fredericton, NB
E3B 5H1

On February 27, 2019, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of New- Brunswick launched a public consultation on French Immersion. Since that time, many statements have been made that questioned the effectiveness of the program in schools across the province. While some of what was stated incorporated several pockets of truth, for example, a challenge to find French Immersion teachers in Canada, the Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals does not believe that what was presented shows a fair or balanced understanding of the real issues affecting French Immersion and fails to reflect the positive influence this program has had on a significant number of learners, parents and graduates.

The fact is French Immersion in Canada is growing: immersion registration has increased by 20% in recent years and is on the rise nearly everywhere across the country. With the mounting popularity of French Immersion many school boards are experiencing growing pains that can be alleviated by engaging in long term planning. Therefore, we need to focus on the positive aspects of the program as it is reinstated in New Brunswick and as it continues to be successful in supporting young anglophone students in becoming bilingual and active citizens. Going back to introducing French Immersion in grade 3 is out of touch with current practices and refers to dated policies and procedures. Top Canadian second language researchers have provided evidence that when supported by the appropriate resources, early French immersion grade 1 entry, is a beneficial and inclusive program open to all youth who call Canada home. Collectively, we need to find solutions to meet the high demand for French immersion in Canada. Current actions, such as delaying the entry point to grade 3 and limiting the number of registrations, are not the most informed solution. Lack of access to quality French programming is not a problem inherent of French Immersion but is rather affected by administrative and political decisions. However, this practice can be changed with leadership and the educational administration’s desire to act in accordance with the wishes of the parents in the communities they serve.

The survey put out by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of New- Brunswick lacks scientific and ethical rigour. Using leading questions and statistics without proper context is misleading at best and lacks integrity.

The success of students or of a program should not be judged on the result of a single measure of competence. Therefore, CAIP considers that it is not justified to characterize the Early French Immersion Program as a failure based on the OPI results of grade 12 students or on the results that teachers achieved on the OPI. As experts in immersion, there are many issues with the “fail” conclusion of this test:

  • Only a small percentage of students took the test – it is mandatory only for those students in grade 11 and 12 who take at least 25% of their courses in French (i.e., 5 courses). There are many students who continue to take one or more courses but not the 5 required for the oral assessment. Moreover, these students should not be labelled as “drop-outs”. There are many factors involved in students’ decisions to take particular courses in English or in French.
  • The test results are often misinterpreted. The “Advanced” level for Early Immersion is actually a high level. Approximately 45% of students tested in 2016-17 attained this level. Moreover, another 42% students reached the Intermediate Plus level meaning they are able to operate at the “Advanced” level but not in a consistent way. They are by no means "failures", but rather students who have reached high levels of oral proficiency (see the descriptions of the Intermediate Plus and Advanced levels).
  • There are other indicators of success such as school exams, projects, and presentations done over the years. These different assessments should be taken into account to get a better understanding of the broad range of students’ French language ability including reading, writing and oral competencies.
  • As for French Immersion Teachers, they are well-trained in second language methodology. Of course, we must continue to offer methodology upgrading and language training for all teachers but this would not be any different than offering professional learning opportunities to teachers of Math, Science or English Language Arts.

As the cornerstone of French Immersion in the country, we also believe that Kindergarten or Grade 1 entry French immersion can best meet the needs of different learners. French immersion is an inclusive program accepting all children and New Brunswick can be complimented on all it has done to provide support for children experiencing difficulties and its implementation of inclusion policies. The popularity and the early start of the Early French Immersion Program guarantees its diversity in learners. We would like to have the opportunity to better understand the numbers provided for the personalized learning plans. Maybe it is because the French Immersion Program already has in place many features of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and therefore, French Immersion teachers already use teaching strategies that are found in a personalized learning plan.

The Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals recognizes that there is a great demand for French immersion teachers in Canada and that many school boards across the country do not have enough immersion teachers to meet the ever-increasing number of students in the program. While New Brunswick has had challenges with finding qualified teachers in the initial years of the move back to grade 1 French immersion, the national statistics cited in the survey do not reflect the provincial reality. As students move into grade 3 and beyond, teachers are already in place. The return to a grade 1 entry point and recruitment efforts by universities have also created more interest in teaching in French immersion. The B.Ed program at UNB Fredericton, for example, has seen an increase of 100 %: There are 28 new French immersion specialist teacher candidates this year compared to 14 last year. The B.Ed. program at STU will be graduating 32 new French Second Language teachers this year. Every attempt should be made to keep these new teachers in New Brunswick. This will not happen if we continue spreading uncertainty about the Early French Immersion Program or criticizing teachers for not being qualified.

Many solutions are on the horizon. To gain a better understanding of the realities of French immersion in Canada, the Canadian Association of Immersion Professional led a ground- breaking Canada-wide consultation. We asked for feedback from more than 900 stakeholders working in French immersion across the country. Our goal was simple: to meet with members of the French immersion professional community to draw up a profile of them and identify their challenges and needs in order to better support them in their daily practices and target the specific issues of French immersion in Canada. This report offers recommendations and solutions that could help achieve these goals. In order to meet parents’ growing demand for immersive French instruction and to ensure that Canadian families are not denied access to French immersion programs, we recommend tackling the problem with a solution that is innovative, sustainable, and easy to implement. For example, rolling out a national campaign to promote the French immersion profession seems like an obvious solution to usher in a new generation of qualified professionals.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages also produced a very interesting study : Accessing opportunity: A study on challenges in French-as-a-second-language education teacher supply and demand in Canada. This study underlines the challenges but also a long list of solutions that are worth considering.

In its last budget, the federal government committed $62 million dollars for French teacher recruitment and retention. These funds can go a long way toward the implementation of shorter- and longer-term solutions to the challenges that the growing popularity of French immersion is creating with regard to teacher availability.

We would like to request a meeting with your government to discuss these issues on a larger scale.

Years of research and consultation have proven that Early French immersion is the most effective way to teach French as a second language to students at all levels of learning. Let us celebrate the benefits and widespread support for Early FI, review outdated educational policies and enrolment processes and focus on educating young Canadians by prioritizing access to Early French immersion programs to help guarantee a bilingual future for New Brunswick and our country.

 marc albert paquette

Marc-Albert Paquette
President
Canadian Association of Immersion Professionals

Katy Arnett, Ph.D.
Professor of Educational Studies, St. Mary's
College of Maryland, USA
Honorary Research Associate (2013-2017),
University of New Brunswick 
Monique Bournot-Trites, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
University of British Columbia 
Stephanie Arnott, PhD
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Education
University of Ottawa
Laurent Cammarata, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Education
University of Alberta
Francis Bangou
Associate Professor
Faculty of Education
University of Ottawa
Marianne Cormier
Doyenne de la Faculté des sciences de l’éducation
Université de Moncton
Joseph Dicks
Director of the Second Language Research
Institute of Canada and Professor in the Faculty of Education,
University of New Brunswick
Nancy McKeraghan, Derrek Bentley, Valerie Pike
Canadian Parents for French,
National Board of Directors
Gabrielle F. Fortin
Executive Director
French for the Future
Dr. Katherine Rehner Associate Professor
University of Toronto
Sharon Lapkin, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita
OISE/University of Toronto
Sylvie Roy
Professor Associate Dean – Research Associate Dean
Werklund School of Education,
University of Calgary
Josée Le Bouthillier, PhD
Research Associate
Second Language Research Institute of Canada,
University of New Brunswick
Jérémie Séror, Ph.D.
Director / Associate Dean
Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute
Léo-James Lévesque
Assistant Professor / Director
FSL Methodology Specialist and
St. Thomas University
Jimmy Steele
President,
Ontario Modern Language Teachers’ Association
Roy Lyster
Professor Emeritus of Second Language Education
McGill University
Merrill Swain, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita,
OISE/University of Toronto
Katherine Mueller, PhD
Werklund School of Education,
University of Calgary
Miles Turnbull
Full Professor – Vice-Principal Academic
Bishop’s University
Louise Outland
Présidente,
Association québécoise des enseignants de français langue seconde
Marie-Josée Vignola
Associate Professor
Faculty of Education
University of Ottawa
Judith Patouma
Associate Professor
Université Sainte-Anne
Alysse Weinberg
Associate Professor
Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute

c.c.
Honorable Dominic CARDY
Honorable Robert GAUVIN
Raymond Théberge, Commissioner of Official Language of Canada
Michel A. Carrier, Interim Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick