The New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood has announced a series of changes aimed at improving French language skills among students.
In a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Education Secretary Dominic Cardy said the department has adopted 18 of the 24 recommendations to improve second language learning.
The recommendations are contained in a report by two commissioners appointed to carry out a review of the State Language Act.
“These recommendations are consistent with a variety of work that has been going on at the department for some time,” Cardy said Wednesday, noting that the report’s findings echo the feedback the department has heard from students in recent years. educators, stakeholders and families.
The recommendations adopted on Wednesday aim to improve second language learning in early learning and childcare facilities and in the public school system.
The most important of the 18 accepted recommendations was the first on the list: a recommendation to use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) as the standard in second and complementary language programs.
“CEFR is an important tool,” Cardy said, noting that it gives the department “a globally acceptable standard to describe and evaluate students’ progress and proficiency.”
The system is recognized worldwide and describes language proficiency on a six-point scale, from A1 – a simple but limited understanding of a language – to C2, the highest level of fluency on the scale.
French immersion registration will continue next week as usual for the 2022-2023 school year, and no changes have been announced regarding entry requirements or timing.
Additional funding from this year’s budget will also go towards prototype projects that will run in kindergarten through grade 12.
Currently 11 schools have participated in the projects.
But the province would like to see more schools participate and will contact additional schools and early childhood education centers.
Prolonged fluency issues
Recent data shared by the province shows that almost half of students have not reached the conversational level of French.
In addition, only a third of group 10 students achieve an intermediate or higher proficiency level in French.
Retaining teachers and providing “equitable” learning opportunities for French across the province have also been an issue, Cardy said, with 66 of the roughly 300 schools in the province not offering French immersion programs.
“Course offerings have not always provided equitable services to students in the anglophone sector, and they vary greatly from region to region, from rural to urban areas,” he said.
The report also highlighted issues with “streaming”, setting up separate learning programs for French and English and placing students with others of perceived similar proficiency.
“As a result, we’ve had students feel discouraged about learning the French language,” Cardy said.
“They disconnect from it in a lot of cases, especially in the older years, and we’ve heard stories like this from family students, school staff…”
Efforts are also underway to improve the way French is taught to newcomers to the province.
“One of the challenges we would have with learning the French language was… the entry points for immersion,” Cardy said.
New students often arrived in a year that “didn’t meet our programming requirements”, and were then “completely barred” from learning the second language or learning it at a higher level.
“That makes no sense at all,” he said.
“You have to have a system that reflects the needs of the students, not the other way around.”