N.B.'s adult literacy levels demand action
NDP promises to slash adult illiteracy by half in four years
Last Updated: Friday, September 17, 2010 | 3:53 AM ET
By Daniel McHardie, CBC News
Deanna Allen, the executive director of Laubach Literacy, says the next N.B. government must invest more in initiatives to boost adult literacy levels. (Courtesy of Deanna Allen)New Brunswick's low adult literacy rate is a "silent problem" that must be addressed by the next provincial government, says a literacy advocate.
Adult literacy is being ignored in the election campaign writes Deanna Allen, the executive director of Laubach Literacy New Brunswick, a non-profit organization that helps people learn to read.
"Most adult New Brunswickers — both French and English — can't read, write or do math well enough to meet the challenges of everyday life and work. That's not debatable. It's a fact," Allen writes in an election analysis for CBC News.
"As New Brunswickers, we haven't taken the issue of literacy seriously — seriously enough to make it a priority up there with job creation and health care."
The International Adult Literacy Skills Survey reported in 2005 that more than 50 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 16 years and older, which is roughly 300,000 people, were in the bottom two literacy levels, meaning they had limited skills and could only comprehend information that was simple and clearly laid out.
"Those numbers should belong to the first 10 years of the last century, not the first 10 years of the new one," Allen writes.
The Canadian Council on Learning predicts 47 per cent of Canadian adults will be living with substandard literacy skills by 2031.
The council has called for a series of reforms:
- Increasing awareness.
- Learner recruitment and retention.
- Adult literacy practitioner development.
- Quality standards and guidelines.
- Reducing barriers and increasing participation.
- Increasing the numbers and range of effective adult literacy learning opportunities.
- Ensuring the quality and effectiveness of adult literacy programs.
- Strengthening partnerships to develop a robust and effective adult literacy system.
More funds needed
Allen argues the next provincial government must ante up more funds to combat New Brunswick adults' low reading skills.
"Other Canadian provinces and other countries are a great deal farther ahead in terms of recognition of the issue, understanding the impact [both social and economic] and developing effective, inter-agency, context-driven support," she said.
The Liberals have not outlined an adult literacy strategy in their campaign platform. However, the election platform does say a new government would work with the province's literacy coalition to help family literacy issues.
The Tory agenda is just as vague. PC Leader David Alward has committed to working with communities, agencies and non-profit groups in an effort to boost adult literacy levels.
Putting a renewed emphasis on training adults to read would directly boost income levels, Allen said.
NDP literacy agenda
NDP Leader Roger Duguay is promising slash adult illiteracy levels by 50 per cent in four years. (CBC)New Democratic Party Leader Roger Duguay announced on Friday that he would cut illiteracy rates by 50 per cent in the next four years.
Duguay said the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have failed adults who struggle with reading.
“The NDP plan to cut illiteracy by half over the next four years will give a chance to people who have been left behind by the Conservatives and Liberals to improve their lives," Duguay said.
"All most people need is a chance and a supportive learning environment. We will give them that."
Duguay's adult literacy strategy includes adding $5 million over four years to a recently created adult literacy program that funds projects.
The NDP plan would also inject as much as $10 million to expand the provincial government's partnership with Laubach Literacy and the Fédération d'alphabétisation du N.B.
The funding would be based on the groups' ability to improve the adult literacy rate.
Further, the party wants to set up an initiative that would see 500 university students take two months of training and then spend two months working full time with adults in rural and remote communities who need literacy training. Students participating in the program would receive a one-term tuition rebate.
The NDP expects this program would cost as much as $6 million.
As well, Duguay said he would add $2 million over four years to an after-school literacy program run by the Learning Disabilities Association of New Brunswick.