Killing EFI shows lack of vision

Chilliwack School Board's rejection of early French immersion is short-sighted and fails to meet the educational needs of the community.

The decision by the Chilliwack School Board to reject early French immersion is short-sighted and fails to meet the growing educational needs and expectations of the community.

In a split decision last week, the board cited increased costs as the reason behind its denial of the program.

With one trustee on medical leave and another choosing not to vote, a recommendation to implement the program by 2014 fell to a 3-2 vote.

Parents were right to be disappointed.

They have worked for more than two years to demonstrate the need and rally support for the program. Indeed, the school district’s own survey, done by an outside consultant, indicated 82 per cent parental support for early French immersion.

Chilliwack already offers late French immersion, which starts at Grade 6.

However, there is strong evidence that earlier introduction gives students better abilities as they move forward. And it’s not just their language skills that are improved.

“Study after study has shown the cognitive benefits of leaning an additional language,” said Glyn Lewis executive director with Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon.

Lewis was commenting on the need for more funding to help school districts like Chilliwack introduce early French immersion. For too many school districts, he says, those start up costs are a deterrent.

Money was an obvious factor in Chilliwack’s decision. Trustees were told it would cost the district an additional $1 million a year to offer French immersion. There was concern that the district, which already faces a $200,000 deficit this year, would have to cut other programs to make it work.

But money should not be the sole factor shaping educational priorities in Chilliwack.

It is important. But that bottom-line thinking too often jeopardizes programs that help us produce well-rounded and accomplished graduates.

Rather than an additional cost, early French immersion should be seen as an investment in local educational programing that will attract and retain students.

Instead of telling parents why it can’t be done, the board should be asking how the district can add an important program of choice that will meet the diverse needs of a growing and progressive community.

But that would take vision.