UPEI leads call for new literacy strategy for P.E.I.
Dean says efforts to boost literacy unco-ordinated, last provincial strategy released 24 years ago
Prince Edward Island is without a current strategy to co-ordinate efforts to improve literacy, the last such report released in 1996 under former premier Catherine Callbeck.
The faculty of education at UPEI has begun leading the campaign to develop a new strategy.
Dean of education Ron MacDonald said there's "lots of good work being done on the Island for literacy and numeracy for all ages — in isolation though. The work is not known to other organizations and there's no real co-ordinated effort, unfortunately."
Last month UPEI hosted a symposium around the topic of literacy involving 30 organizations from across the Island. On Monday, the university launched an online survey to try to gather information around whether Islanders have the literacy and numeracy skills they need.
A 2012 international study co-ordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found 45 per cent of Island adults — and 48 per cent of Canadian adults — lacked the literacy skills they needed in order to fully participate in society, to achieve their goals, and to develop their skills and potential.
Rural and urban literacy 'discrepancies'
MacDonald said more recent studies have uncovered "discrepancies" and divides among literacy rates between rural and urban P.E.I., and based on income, which he described as "a challenge to examine."
Another challenge he pointed to: an influx of newcomers bringing a diversity of languages, challenging the education system to instruct them in one or both of Canada's official languages.
MacDonald said none of these are challenges that can't be overcome through a "co-ordinated effort sharing what others are doing; putting together a package, a map for literacy and numeracy on the Island."
Jinny Greaves, the executive director of the P.E.I. Literacy Alliance, said the province is in the midst of a "literacy crisis," affecting everything from Islanders' health, to their incomes, to their ability to participate in civil society.
Greaves said the focus for the alliance is on programs to improve literacy among young Islanders, in their preschool years through to elementary school.
But she said those efforts and the efforts of other groups could go further if there was co-ordination.
"It would allow us to have a collaborative effort and really have a stronger impact."
'Families need to be taking up the charge'
She said there were important successes from the province's previous literacy strategy, including the introduction of a free tutoring program in 1998 that continues today under the administration of the alliance.
Parents and families are really critically important supporters.— Ron MacDonald, UPEI
According to the alliance's most recent annual report, 821 children received instruction through the tutoring program in 2017, although 1,200 were referred to the program by their teachers.
Greaves said teachers have told the alliance they would recommend more students receive the tutoring sessions, but referrals are capped at 1,200. At times the program has struggled to find the funding to hire the necessary tutors.
MacDonald said society needs to put more emphasis on improving literacy, but he also said the responsibility doesn't just fall on the education system.
"I think families need to be taking up the charge more too," he said. "There's an awful lot of weight and pressure put on schools.
"Parents and families are really critically important supporters. I mean, the child learns at home."
A spokesperson for the P.E.I. Department of Education pointed to a number of measures to improve literacy in the province, including:
A recent $700,000 commitment to hire new staff coaches to support literacy from kindergarten to Grade 3.
A $600,000 initiative to provide classroom libraries in all Island high schools, now focusing on intermediate schools.
A requirement that all Island schools work to achieve their own literacy and numeracy goals.
However the province admits there is no single plan tying literacy efforts together.