Minister calls low enrolment in free second-language courses ‘unfortunate’ – New Brunswick

New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education, training and labour said he’s disappointed that only 115 people signed up for a program that provides free second-language training to unemployed residents of the province.

Donald Arseneault, who is also responsible for official languages, said the province introduced the program in September 2016. It promised $1 million to make French and English courses more accessible to unemployed New Brunswickers at any of the province’s community colleges, as well as some universities.

Arseneault said there was a lot of talk at the time that people struggled finding work because they didn’t speak both official languages. 

But with so few signing up since the program’s introduction, he wonders if there’s really a need for the program, he told CBC Information Morning on Wednesday.

“Of all the comments I’ve heard over the past couple of years, that this is a major issue, to only have about 115 who took advantage of it, I find that quite unfortunate,” he said.

“But at the same time, maybe it’s not really [as much of] an issue as what people may think it is.”

Arseneault could not say how much of the $1 million the province has already invested in the program, but it was likely “a lot less than what was anticipated.”

He said 83 people signed up for the program in 2016 and 32 in 2017. The majority signed up for French language training, he said.

When the province first announced the program, Premier Brian Gallant said he was very confident many New Brunswickers would use it.

On Wednesday, Arseneault said he was not planning on cutting the program back because it’s still important, and opportunities to learn a second language were “identified as a challenge.”

“But you can only get better and get more functional in both languages if you actually take the training and then you practise it,” he said.

No lack of access

He added that a lack of awareness of the program, or lack of access to…

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