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NB Premier calls public consultations on French immersion ‘a shouting session’


New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said January’s public meetings on changes to French education in English schools were “a shouting session.”

Higgs also insisted he would continue to keep the topic of French second-language education front-and-centre, days after the proposed plan to end Grade 1 French immersion was abandoned.

Education and Early Childhood Education Minister Bill Hogan made that announcement on Friday.

“It’s not over, it’s just the beginning of fixing our Anglophone system,” said Higgs on Monday, “I respect Minister Hogan had to make a change, given where we were.”

 “I respect Minister Hogan had to make a change given where we were,” said Higgs.

Minister Hogan heard loud criticism directly from parents and teachers at meetings in Bathurst, Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton.

The sessions were initially organized as a “world café” format of discussions table-to-table, but became an impromptu open mic event when people in Moncton began shouting over Hogan's introductions.

An open mic portion was subsequently added to the Saint John and Fredericton meetings. There was overwhelming opposition amongst all who spoke.

“Many of the teachers in the English system have great ideas,” said Higgs. “Unfortunately in these sessions, rather than kind of get to the root cause of how to fix this, which the commissioner wrote a report on, it became a shouting session and it becomes distractive in terms of what is the real point.”

Premier Higgs did not attend any of the in-person public meetings.

“I think if (the) premier is noting they were nothing more than “shouting sessions,” I think the premier should get at what exactly was being said during those sessions,” said Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association. “Why did they feel the need to shout? What was the message that they felt government wasn’t hearing?”

Keating said teachers have been trying to make one priority clear to Higgs.

“What we need is properly resourced classrooms where teachers have the ability to actually address the learning issues that are in each classroom,” said Keating.

Higgs mentioned the NBTA’s involvement as being imperative to any ongoing discussion, in the context of any future changes to French education in English schools.

Higgs said his goal of having all students speak conversational French by graduation couldn’t be achieved with what he termed a “two-tiered education system” with French immersion and English prime.

“We’re a bilingual province and if we really, truly have that as our ambition, which I do, then we need to look at our education system first,” said Higgs.

Chris Collins, the executive director of Canadian Parents for French in New Brunswick, said Higgs should leave French immersion alone and focus on English prime.

“We need to put some resources in there, we need to hire more teachers, we need smaller class sizes, we need to improve the courses that are available,” said Collins. ‘But there’s nothing (Higgs) can do with regards to French immersion. The people have spoken. It’s very clear. They’re totally against these changes.” Top Stories

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