Thinking better of it

Entretenir le mensonge d'un Canada bilingue {coast-to-coast} en 2008! Come on!

Canada's only officially bilingual province, New Brunswick, has fortunately had second thoughts about diminishing its commitment to bilingualism in the form of early French immersion, though its new plan is to start immersion in Grade 3, rather than in Grade 1, as before.
In their announcement of a revised, compromise plan on Tuesday, Shawn Graham, the Premier, and Kelly Lamrock, the Minister of Education, acknowledged that French immersion programs need a number of supports to work at their best.
Several of these supports were lacking previously, such as sufficiently trained teachers, methodical evaluation and the backing of the program at all levels of the education hierarchy and in all areas of the province.
Mr. Graham and Mr. Lamrock appeared fittingly chastened, after their hasty decision in March to end early French immersion.
Parents' groups went to court, and in June a superior court judge concluded that the government had not fulfilled its duty to listen to a range of views. An adequate consultation has now taken place.
It is to be hoped that a fuller commitment to early French immersion will result from this controversy. Though common experience suggests that six-year-olds will pick up a language better than eight-year-olds, some experts support the government's view that a later start, in Grade 3, is not a major disadvantage.
Mr. Lamrock had argued that early French immersion had the effect of creating a streaming system of schooling in which children with disabilities and other special needs were kept in the regular, non-immersion program, so that, in his view, the "core" program gave a lesser education.
That was never the purpose of early French immersion, and should never have been its effect. In the future, there should be a renewed effort to accommodate all students in early French immersion, to make sure it does not disproportionately serve the children of highly motivated parents.
Official bilingualism in Canada should be accompanied by a considerable degree of practical, lived bilingualism. At present, only about 15 per cent of New Brunswick anglophones are functionally bilingual, considerably fewer than the province's francophones.
If the school system can significantly raise that rate, New Brunswick will truly be a model for Canadians from sea to sea.

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