The New Brunswick government must make a serious effort to improve the province’s low literacy levels in the next four years, according to former lieutenant-governor Marilyn Trenholme Counsell.

More than half of New Brunswick citizens between the ages of 15 and 65 do not have the necessary literacy levels to compete in the workplace, according to Statistics Canada.

The province’s literacy levels are ahead of only Newfoundland and Labrador.

Trenholme Counsell, the past president of the New Brunswick Literacy Coalition, wrote in an election op-ed for CBC News that the provincial government must take the issue of improving these literacy rates a priority.

“This serious ‘skills gap’ is eroding our economy. The Literacy Coalition is calling for an enhanced, well co-ordinated plan for adult literacy and essential skills training,” she wrote.

Marilyn Trenholme Counsell

Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, the former lieutenant-governor, said raising literacy levels must be a top election issue. (Mount Allison University)

The literacy coalition, she said, wants full accountability, annual evaluation and reporting, to be undertaken to ensure measurable progress is being made in boost literacy levels.

Earlier this year at a conference in Saint John, Roxanne Fairweather, the event's co-chairperson, said roughly 25 per cent of Grade 2 students in the Saint John area are not meeting literacy goals. 

Despite those low numbers, there has been some progress in improving literacy levels in recent years across the province.

In 2013, 78.1 per cent of Grade 9 students met or exceeded reading expectations while 82.4 per cent succeeded in writing assessments.

The former lieutenant governor said the next government should make a strong commitment to hitting the 90 per cent goal of literacy in every New Brunswick school.

“Political leaders must unleash the joy, the power and the comfort of reading so that every New Brunswick citizen might reach her/his potential,” she wrote.

In her opinion article, Trenholme Counsell said the provincial government must focus on adult literacy initiatives in order to help people who are struggling with low literacy levels.

However, she said it is critical to focus on prevention by helping promote literacy in the schools and at home.

“The family home is 'the cradle of learning.' An emphasis on literacy in the home and community is essential,” she wrote.

“Community action is needed to support families to accept their responsibility from the earliest days of a child’s life and throughout the years with lifelong learning.”

There are some community groups, such as Elementary Literacy Friends (ELF), that have started up to help young people read.

The ELF program works with students for two hours a week to help them improve their reading abilities.