The AEFNB “makes a face” to make a point – An awareness campaign to stress the importance of early childhood in New Brunswick

By Alain Boisvert
February 15, 2013
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For Suzanne Bourgeois, president of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignantes francophones du Nouveau Brunswick (AEFNB), our priority is clear: “For more than two years now, we've been zeroing in on a target that’s barely knee-high to a grasshopper! We've used every forum possible to focus our lobbying and advocacy work on an issue that’s critical to the future of Francophone Acadians: early childhood.”

The climate was ripe for such efforts given the 2010 amalgamation of the Ministry of Education with the early-childhood sector, which paved the way for new partnerships. Still, to make sure these working relationships would blossom, we had to rally a range of stakeholders who weren't always used to tilling the same soil.

Louise Landry, AEFNB director general, stresses that “when you have many people working toward the same goal, the odds of achieving that goal are all the greater, you make life easier for the politicians, and you're more likely to see actions and decisions that are well thought-out. For the early-childhood portfolio, our prime focus was to get everyone working together.”

Landry adds that, “it didn't take long to quash the scepticism some of our partners had about our commitment to early childhood; it's true enough that each association usually defends its own cause, has its own agenda and sticks to its own well-guarded area of intervention. But in the case of early childhood, which plays such a pivotal role for the Francophone community, all of the associations had to look beyond their immediate interests and transform the early-childhood issue into a social challenge shared by one and all.”

As for AEFNB members, though fully aware they were investing time and resources outside the school sector, they quickly understood the cultural, educational and demographic impact of the early-childhood focus. “As soon as you grasp how investing in early childhood has massive long-term effects across every segment of society, the choice quickly becomes unanimous,” insists AEFNB president Suzanne Bourgeois.

This joint awareness-raising campaign in New Brunswick is already producing results, and the excitement among those working in early-childhood learning is palpable right across the province. In the fall, for instance, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recruited early-childhood directors for each school district (Anglophone and Francophone alike)—an all-time first for New Brunswick. The strategy will spawn early-childhood networks in the dualistic framework set up some 40 years ago: a choice with unprecedented potential for the development of the French-language early-childhood network and the consolidation of an extensive educational continuum.

In addition, last spring, a few of these progressive initiatives were embodied in an amendment to the Early Learning and Childcare Act to promote homogeneous spaces in daycare services. Though the community considers the law still lacks some “teeth” with regard to existing bilingual day-care centres (grand-fathered), the legislation does begin to point us toward the desired vision for now.

The AEFNB will continue raising awareness across a broader segment of the general public in the spring of 2013, with a special emphasis on the importance of language acquisition for pre-schoolers. “And again, we’ll be relying on the cooperation of more than one partner to make sure this new effort to promote early-childhood learning succeeds,” concludes AEFNB president Suzanne Bourgeois.

    The trends are a clear cause for concern, so early childhood has to remain a top priority

    Despite the recent progress in this area and the commitment received from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Jody Carr (seen here in a photo taken at a symposium on early-childhood learning organized by the AEFNB), Association president Suzanne Bourgeois insists that “the time hasn’t yet come for the AEFNB to shift to another priority. The unified movement driving the investment in early-childhood services in New Brunswick has to hold firm if we really want to counter the powerful and worrisome trends we’re facing.”

    For the AEFNB and its partners: big, broad smiles all around

    Promotional tools, awareness guides, seminars and meetings designed to gather partners from different areas quickly
    showed us how to channel our efforts and energy. As its visual backdrop, the campaign theme, Early Childhood in
    New Brunswick: A Mother Tongue Isn’t Just for Making Faces! has a child with a big, bold, engaging smile, bright colours
    and mannerisms typical of pre-schoolers. Our efforts to mobilize many partners, both federal and provincial, in our lobbying
    and communications strategies managed to attract the attention of decision-makers.

Alain Boisvert is the communications director of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants francophones du Nouveau Brunswick.

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