Panel tackles poor literacy

By Karissa Donkin

A national panel on literacy made a stop in Fredericton on March 13 to discuss ways to improve literacy in New Brunswick.

Hosted by the National Strategy for Early Literacy, the panel centered on New Brunswick’s low literacy rates, ways to improve literacy programs, and how literacy can lead to a self-sufficient province.

New Brunswick has the second lowest literacy rates across the country. Statistics reveal that only half of New Brunswickers over 16 have sufficient literacy skills.

Doug Wilms of the University of New Brunswick’s Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy was a presenter at the consultation. He says that literacy should be established at a young age.

“It’s not just about learning to read, it’s about reading to learn,” Wilms said.

Stacey Doyle of the Saint John Learning Exchange said literacy development begins at a young age.

“Family literacy is really important. It starts with parents reading to their kids,” she said.

Most of the programs offered in the province are targeted at adults instead of children.

The Saint John Learning Exchange offers literacy programs to adults over 18. They also assist those who want to get an education.

Doyle said programs like those offered by the Saint John Learning Exchange become more important when there’s an economic downtown.

“Typically when you see an economic crisis, more people come here to upgrade their skills to move forward and have a better chance at getting a job,” Doyle said.

Because of the economic crisis, many choose to continue to work while they improve their literacy.

The panel stressed that New Brunswick will never be self-sufficient if literacy is not made a priority in the province.

Don Jamieson, a presenter at the consultation representing the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, says that the improving literacy can solve economic problems.

“If adults have better literacy skills, they are going to be more productive in the workplace, they are going to be better citizens, health care costs are going to go down and there are going to be fewer requirements for social support and welfare,” Jamieson said
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