Saturday, May 17, 2008

Response to CBC Radio Interview with Minister of Education Kelly Lamrock

By Joseph Dicks, Director, Second Language Research Institute of Canada

I feel compelled to respond to the interview with Minister Lamrock that was aired on Friday, May 16th. There are a number of statements that the Minister made that need to be corrected. I find it incredible that the Minister of Education, the person responsible for public education in this province, could make such unqualified statements that ultimately mislead the public on matters related to public education.

Here are some examples of Minister Lamrock’s misleading statements:

1) The Minister dismissed Dr. Fred Genesee’s public statements regarding the superiority of Early French immersion by referring to Dr. Genesee’s peer reviewed research that finds that late immersion also works.

This is extremely misleading. Dr. Genesee has made it clear that, while Late French immersion works for students who are strong academically, Early French immersion is the best option for communities where there are two languages in close contact. In fact, on Wednesday evening here in Fredericton, Dr. Genesee directly addressed this issue and made it absolutely clear that he does not understand this decision to eliminate Early immersion in an officially bilingual province. Perhaps, had Minister Lamrock attended the public lecture, or taken the time to meet with Dr Genesee while he was here, he would be less inclined to misrepresent this respected researcher’s work in the field of second language education.

2) The Minister referred to the government’s new FSL program as a universal program.

This is also extremely misleading. It is true that the proposed program has two universal elements: (1) four years at the elementary level during which no student will receive any French instruction and (2) a five month intensive French experience at grade 5. After grade 5 there are two other elements of program, neither of which is universal. Students will choose either Late French Immersion which by its nature is suited to stronger academic students or the Intensive French follow-up. .

3) The Minister claims that the government’s new FSL program will eliminate streaming.

This is also extremely misleading. As I pointed out in my last point about the myth of universality, once students reach grade 6 they will have to choose between Late French Immersion and Intensive French follow-up (core French). Since we know from past experience that Late immersion is a demanding program academically, it is extremely likely that it will continue to stream students based on ability.

4) The Minister stated that because we don’t have math immersion, or science immersion or history immersion, there is no need to have French immersion.

This is also misleading. The Minister is suggesting that the word « French » in French immersion is a subject like math, science or history. This is not the case. French immersion is a program that involves students being taught a variety of subjects including math, science, and history in their second language, French. We are already treating French as a subject like math, science and history – we call that core French. To extend the Minister’s argument, we would not have Intensive French either since we do not have intensive math, intensive science or intensive history. Clearly language acquisition is different from these other subjects because it is more than a subject. The beauty of Early French immersion is that students get 2 for 1 : they get to learn the subject matter of school and they get to develop a high level of proficiency in their second language in the process.

5) The Minister named me personally in the interview and stated that in an alternative plan submitted to him that I admitted that it would take years of training to address the streaming problem.

This is a gross misrepresentation of what I said in the alternative plan. What I said, in fact, was that to address the problem of streaming in Early immersion we need short-term and long-term strategies. I proposed that we could address the problem of a lack of resource teachers in the short term through establishing an intensive summer program and expanding existing « good practices » in schools. I also proposed that Faculties of Education include special education for FSL teachers as part of a longer-term solution. At no time did I « admit » that it would take years to address the problem since I do not believe that to be true. Not only was this statement by the Minister misleading, it was not true. I invite those interested to consult this alternative plan at

There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding in the general public about second language education. It is a complex and multifaceted field in which professionals spend entire careers educating themselves, future teachers, and the public about the various issues and the relative merits of different pathways to bilingualism. It is extremely discouraging and frustrating, therefore, to have a Minister of Education who, in this area at least, is contributing to public confusion rather than public education.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say the new program is 'not' universal - they have conceded that this program will not work and cannot be delivered to my daughter in grade five. Now we're trying to figure out what to do so that the year isn't a total write-off.

Eric said...

Has this been sent to a newspaper? If not, it should be.

hamlit said...

We agree. It is unfortunate that it has not been picked up yet. Hopefully it will be picked up soon.

Eric said...

They read it on CBC Information Morning Fredericton this morning (same show where Lamrock did the interview). It was awesome!