The New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood has announced a series of changes aimed at improving student proficiency in French.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the department had adopted 18 of 24 recommendations aimed at improve second language learning.
The recommendations were contained in a report by two commissioners appointed to conduct a review of the Official Languages Act.
“These recommendations align with a variety of work that has been underway for some time at the department,” Cardy said Wednesday, noting that the report’s findings echo feedback the department has heard from students, educators, stakeholders and families in recent years.
The recommendations accepted Wednesday aim to improve second-language learning in early learning and child care settings and in the public school system.
Chief among the 18 accepted recommendations was the first on the list: a recommendation to adopt the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) as the standard in second and additional language curricula.
“The CEFR is an important tool,” Cardy said, noting that it gives the department “a globally acceptable standard for describing and evaluating” student progress and skills.
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 proficiency on the scale.
Registration for French Immersion will take place as usual next week for the 2022-2023 school year, and no changes have been announced to entry requirements or timing.
Additional funds from this year’s budget will also be directed to ongoing prototype projects in K-12 classrooms.
Currently, 11 schools have participated in the projects.
But the province would like to see more schools participate and will reach out to other schools and early childhood education centers.
Long-standing fluidity issues
Recent data shared by the province revealed that nearly half of its students have not reached a conversational level in French.
In addition, only one-third of Grade 10 students achieve intermediate or higher levels of proficiency in French.
Retaining teachers and providing “equitable” French-learning opportunities across the province has also been an issue, Cardy said, with 66 of the province’s roughly 300 schools not offering immersion programs. French.
“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 problems with “streaming”, which sets up separate learning programs for French and English and places students with others with comparable skills.
“The result is that we had students who felt discouraged about their French learning,” Cardy said.
“They disengage from it in many cases, especially in the older years, and we’ve heard stories like this from family students, school staff…”
Work is also underway to improve the way French is taught to newcomers to the province.
“One of the challenges we would have with learning French was… entry points for immersion,” Cardy said.
New students often arrived in a year “that didn’t fit our programming requirements” and then were “completely cut off” from learning the second language or learning it at a higher level.
“It makes no sense,” he said.
“You need to have a system that reflects the needs of the students, not the other way around.”