FREDERICTON - The results from surveys handed out in schools across the province are starting to come back, and the response is overwhelmingly against the elimination of early immersion.
Within weeks of Education Minister Kelly Lamrock's sweeping reforms to the French second language system, a number of parent school support committees sent a survey home with students to gather more information on how the changes were being perceived by parents.
Approximately three-quarters of parents who responded expressed dissatisfaction at the axing of early immersion. The process has been completed at five schools - three in Fredericton and two in Sackville - and at least a dozen more surveys are still underway, in regions including Saint John, Moncton, Miramichi and Sussex.
"What this tells us is there is no silent majority, or the silent majority isn't perhaps what the government thinks it is," said Diana Hamilton, who helped tabulate survey results for the support committee at Salem Elementary School in Sackville.
The survey contains seven questions, asking parents to weigh in on whether Lamrock's decision was adequately explained, the level of consultation, and whether plans for implementing the changes are sufficient. Parents are also quizzed on their support for the new intensive French program, the elimination of core and early immersion programming, and the Ombudsman's recommendation to delay Lamrock's plan.
The numbers tell a similar story in each of the five surveys completed so far. In most schools, between a third and a half of parents responded. Overall, approximately 70 per cent said the decision was not properly explained and the opportunity for feedback was inadequate. About 75 per cent supported the Ombudsman and were against the elimination of early immersion, while only about half supported the new intensive French program.
"This shows there's incredible opposition to what's being done," Hamilton said, adding she was struck by the time, effort and thought parents put into making comments on the survey. Some wrote directly on the survey sheet, while others attached separate letters.
"My impression is people really appreciated that someone was finally asking what parents thought, because the government hadn't done it," she said.
According to Freda Burdett, spokeswoman for Citizens for Educational Choice - a group that has taken the government to court over the French second language reforms - the surveys speak volumes.
"Parents are saying we were not consulted, we were not listened to, we don't like the speed at which you're making these changes," Burdett said. "Parents across the board are upset."
Lamrock has remained steadfastly behind the reforms, saying in a recent interview that those who disagree with the program changes are getting desperate in their attempts to discredit them.
"At the end of the day, what matters is getting the policy right," Lamrock said. "I still believe, after all the months of debate we've had, I'm more convinced than ever that a universal system is better than one that teaches French to 20 per cent of kids."
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Monday, June 9, 2008