LITERACY IN NEW BRUNSWICK
New Brunswick is facing a literacy challenge. The home of masters of the written word such as Alden Nowlan, Bliss Carmen, Antonine Maillet, Hermenegilde Chiasson, Sheree Fitch and David Adams Richards has over half its citizens unable to meet literacy requirements of today’s world. The wonderful stories written by the storytellers listed above and others may be beyond comprehension by a majority of our citizens. We do have examples of individuals who have had successful lives and careers while struggling with literacy but these are by far the exception.
New Brunswick has much scope for improvement when it comes to literacy performance. Today as many as 25 percent of students and 50 percent of adults cannot read to their full potential. Having adequate literacy means not only being able to access the literary culture that is part of our heritage but also being able to reach our potential and participate fully as citizens in a democracy.
The New Brunswick Literacy Secretariat was established in 2015 to lead the development of a comprehensive literacy strategy for the province. One of the Secretariat’s first tasks was to engage a broad range of stakeholders from individuals, government and the private sector as well as educators to share their ideas on how to improve the literacy situation in New Brunswick. The resulting report commissioned by the Secretariat entitled “The Power of Literacy – Moving Towards New Brunswick’s Comprehensive Literacy Strategy” presented recommendations that reflected this wide stakeholder input, as well as the current status in New Brunswick and emerging best practices. The vision presented in the Power of Literacy document strongly suggests that a long term commitment is required to ensure that opportunities for engagement in literacy rich environments are created across one’s lifespan. Such a commitment must be strongly assisted with an investment at the community level by both organizations and individuals.
Following the release of “The Power of Literacy”, New Brunswick’s comprehensive literacy strategy “Unleashing the Power of Literacy” was produced. This strategy plots a course for New Brunswick to improve literacy among our citizens and has been embraced by educators, non-governmental organizations and individuals. It identifies key priorities organized in four developmental stages (early childhood, kindergarten to grade 2, grade 3 to 12 and adult and lifelong learning).
The strategy includes commitments for each stage and provides conditions for success. Among the conditions are improved co-ordination and cooperation among stakeholders, establishing an accountability framework, providing support to families, providing training and coaching for early childhood educators, exploring ways to strengthen the role of libraries, exploring ways for universities to better equip teachers and working to ensure that initiatives are based on research / best practices. The strategy recognizes the importance of early childhood literacy development that continues to place emphasis on parental involvement. Scarcity of time, resources and energy among parents and care givers for pre-school children remains a significant challenge and efforts are continuing to address this challenge.
A key element of the strategy is the leadership of government in assisting with co-ordination of efforts for literacy improvement throughout New Brunswick. Within our schools K – 12 each student must be supported and monitored to achieve his/her appropriate outcome in reading at each grade and certainly before completion of high school. At the same time teachers require solid preparation in university to teach literacy and they must have adequate resources and support in the classroom on the literacy front. Likewise New Brunswick’s adult literacy challenge demands enhanced efforts to engage employers and employees as well as the underemployed and unemployed in remedial literacy along with essential skills training/upgrading.
New Brunswick is embarking on excellent new directions within the childcare sector. This is the ideal moment to ensure that each child in our new early childhood education centers receives optimal opportunities to develop a love of reading and that the quality of the learning environment in these centers is monitored closely.
One motto to achieve success is “plan the work and then work the plan”. Much effort and energy has been put into the production of the “Power of Literacy” followed by the plan “Unleashing the Power of Literacy”. Efforts are underway to implement the strategy that involve governments, the private sector, community groups and many volunteers. There are opportunities for New Brunswickers to become involved in these efforts and all are encouraged to do so.
New Brunswick will be going to the polls in September. I hope that, whatever the outcome of the election, the value of the work done to produce and implement the current literacy strategy be recognized and continued. As with any strategy or plan, periodic reviews of progress may result in changes. I would encourage leaders of all political parties to commit to continuing the implementation of the literacy strategy. Literacy is far too important to the future prosperity of New Brunswick and any incoming government should embrace the extensive groundwork that has been laid in charting a course into the future.