Almost 50 per cent of Islanders struggle with literacy

Brian McInnis
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Madison Gagne, Angela Warick and her sister Elizabeth, take time out for some reading in the reading tent during the family literacy day Saturday in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.

Nearly half of all Islanders have low literacy levels and that means they are ill-equipped to deal with today’s complex world.

Literacy refers to the knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information from text, such as news stories, editorials, poems and fiction. It is the most commonly understood definition of literacy, but there is also numeracy, which is the ability to reason and to apply simple numerical concepts.

Basic numeracy skills consist of comprehending fundamental mathematics like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Studies indicate that Islanders struggle more with numeracy than reading and writing.

There are many different levels of literacy, but there is a “benchmark level” that people need to be at in order to function fully in life and about half of Islanders have those skills and half do not have them.

Parents can assist their children with these skills by spending 15 minutes a day helping their children learn these skills, said Jinny Greaves, of the P.E.I Literacy Alliance. She co-ordinated family literacy day activities in Charlottetown Saturday to help celebrate national Family Literacy Day Sunday.

“Fifteen minutes of learning is all families need to do every day to really make a difference in their children’s literacy,” she said.

People need benchmark level to function fully in the world

The Confederation Centre Art Gallery hosted the event that the literacy alliance billed as “15 minutes of fun” and to that end there was music, face painting, a puppet show, computer and art games and of course reading, Greaves said.

She explained that literacy does not just involve reading and writing which are considered the hard skills, but also the soft skills that involve thinking and communicating to be able to express ideas. The earlier parents get their children involved in learning theses skills the better off they will be later in life, Greaves said.

“Early on you can start with finger play, singing and rhyming and when kids get older and they start to understand print then you can do readings or write songs together…it does have to be a book that’s only in school.”

She said the key is to find what kids are interested in and if that is reading online that’s fine.

“Reading online is still reading so I think the key is to find what they are interested in and if they want to read on the computer then find something on the computer that they can read…kind of meet them where they are at because it does not have to an actual hardcover book for them to be practicing literacy.”


Organizations: P.E.I Literacy Alliance, Confederation Centre Art Gallery

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • island atheist
    January 29, 2013 - 11:56

    I wonder which half the sky daddy worshippers are on. I suspect higher literacy means less fundies.

  • SAP
    January 28, 2013 - 13:27

    50%, that's like, um, almost a quarter of us ain't it?

  • Twiggy
    January 28, 2013 - 13:23

    A large group of public servants and business people most of whom draw on government resources one way or another maintain a rotation of Liberal and Conservative governments to the detriment of the other half of the population. I think that about sums up the PEI political culture as it relates to literacy, awareness and social control.

  • SG
    January 28, 2013 - 12:48

    Really? I'm shocked. I've met few illerate people on PEI. To the contrary I've met many Islanders who are well educated, very intelligent, highly skilled in many areas, creative, versatile, experienced in many fields including Public Speaking. Our young Grandcildren (kindergarten level) can operate a computer as well as we can, read books designed for their age levels, count change and carry on a conversation with adults. Personally I would have never imagined that 50% of Islanders are struggling with literacy.

  • Garth Staples
    January 28, 2013 - 12:40

    I have stated clearly for the past 5-6 years what the problem is and the future consequences. We continue to cheat our students and parents of their future. The problem remains squarely in the Dept of Education whose entrenched bureaucrats refuse to listen, thus change. Protect thy turf at all costs. How selfish! A former teacher.

  • Captain Canuck
    January 28, 2013 - 12:36

    The headline says it all. In my opinion, one would struggle with illiteracy. According to the headline I have been struggling with literacy for 45 years! Odd, I found being able to read and write fluently to be of assistance! (Can you say "touché"?).

  • Pius from BC
    January 28, 2013 - 12:24

    The government should ask the teachers to give back their big retirement bonuses. Obviously, they didn't do their job.

  • Probably an accurate headline
    January 28, 2013 - 11:31

    Sad to say but I believe the headline is probably quite accurate. As someone already suggested, you only need to read these comments on a daily basis or read the guardian for that matter. When I went to UPEI in the late seventies, they had a compulsory english 101 class because the kids leaving high school didn't have basic writing skills. I'd say the problem has deteriorated since then. Add to that the fact that kids and adults use abbreviated slang on their pc's and for texting and we've developed a whole new, accepted, slang style of writing. The schools need to go back to basics. I get all kinds of letters and e-mails from teachers that are full of grammatical errors. I get e-mails from politicians thanking me for something or wishing me something on behalf of themselves! For example: "On behalf of myself and my wife, I'd like to wish you a merry christmas". There are countless more examples like your instead of you're or saw instead of seen etc etc. The problem has been going on so long that expecting parents to correct their kids is like having the blind leading the blind.

  • Angry Islander
    January 28, 2013 - 11:30

    This problem is manly the fault of Rob ghiz who as been spending way to much money on himself rather then the educational system that our children needs. We need to get rid of ghizes dictatership!

  • Carmen Young-McGrattan
    January 28, 2013 - 11:15

    I agree 100% with "Dont Blame the Teachers", when he/she states, and I have copied and pasted your remark, I hope you do not mind QUOTE: Like someone much smarter than me once said...until you walk a mile in a man’s shoes, END QUOTE. This colum, does state "Struggles", it does not state that almost 50% of the population IS illiterate. I, myself, would like to know more information about the "study" done, to come up with these figures. Please Guardian, can you supply validity to this "survey"? Perhaps, the person who compiled this information, is in some form, illiterate. Particularly, in their math skills? How many people were surveyed, how many had literacy issues, and did you, divide this 'correctly'?... and oh, by the way… I quit school, failed grade 11, and my parents did not help/teach me “school” work at home, but they sure did teach me manners and an extremely high work ethic.

  • Reader
    January 28, 2013 - 11:03

    I agree, IrishNannie; 50% seems low to me as well.

  • Who's worse off?
    January 28, 2013 - 10:44

    Fifty percent of Islanders may struggle with literacy but the other fifty percent, being literate, struggles with what the government publishes. Who's worse off? The irony is that Ghiz prides himself on pushing an "education" agenda. In fact, it's really the last thing he wants is an educated public that can interpret his wonky policies and second rate propaganda . . . for a study case, see Plan B.

  • Throwing percentages around
    January 28, 2013 - 07:58

    What kind of reporting is this? To throw a statement out with absolutely nothing to back it up is irresponsible. What do you take your reading audience for? Yes, unfortunately a lot of people will believe everything they read. 50% you say...says who?

    • intobed
      January 28, 2013 - 11:20

      EXACTLY! This statement is just plain false, and stated by a group that requires money from the government to survive. With all the government cutbacks, they are getting scared, and want to pressure the government to not cut their funding. If you look at the comments, most people immediately think it is true. I certainly don't.

      January 28, 2013 - 12:13

      Says who?.......The other 50% who do understand, that's who!

    • captain canuck
      January 28, 2013 - 12:22

      They're referring to the ability to understand what you're reading - ironically putting you in the 50% that is having difficulty. Sorry, shall I repeat that for you? You didn't understand what they said. You need to learn to understand what you are reading. That is what they are talking about. Did you get that? Lets put it this way....

  • AD
    January 28, 2013 - 07:51

    I can totally imagine it's true. Sadly, I tend to notice that many people do not have comprehension or grammar skills these days. New math is designed to make learning math more 'gentle' but it does nothing to help the kids. If you can't add and subtract columns and easily recall memorized multiplication tables, complex math concepts will never be any easier. The reading programs today do not focus on structure, etc. My child is a 'top' student . He can't create a sentence or paragraph, and cannot spell to save his life. He cannot perform cursive writing skills either. I've addressed this with the faculty for a few years now to be told that it's not their generation. They have grammar check and spell check and computers for writing- teaching is focused on other skills. I'm sorry but the Dept of Education is doing no child a service by ignoring the basics. Our neighbour's child 'graduated' from high school and was not functionally literate. This young adult had to go back to receive equivalency for grade 12 to obtain reading skills to function in the adult world. It is very sad. My best friend came here from Ontario where her children could read in kindergarten. She came here to find out that children couldn't read in grade 1. Both of her children felt like they were placed back a full grade level when they came here. That says something. Now, we're throwing children into french kindergarten instead of waiting until grade 1. I can only imagine how poor their english language skills will be when they didn't even learn the english alphabet before going ino french immersion! I'm sorry but these 'feel good about yourself' education approaches are robbing our children of an ability to function as adults.

    • former resident
      January 28, 2013 - 13:44

      There is only so much a parent can do to assist and encourage their children in this area. It is very unfortunate that the board of education doesn't take responsibility. Parents and teachers need to work together. My son, who was to graduate grade 12 this year, is only reading/comprehending at a grade 3/4 level. This is well known by the educational institute he was attending and they were willing to graduate him any way. When I brought my concern to light I was completely dismissed. I have lost faith in the islands educational system. How are children expected to function in an adult world if they can't even read, let alone complete, a standard job application? It sickens me to no end when I think of how many other parents/children are in the same situation. What kind of future is there for the island if this continues?

  • jrsplace
    January 28, 2013 - 07:51

    I bet they are looking for a handout from the government! On top of that, I bet they can read the labels on their daily trip to the liquor store and the lottery counter!

  • Retired
    January 28, 2013 - 07:50

    We must not be too quick to lay blame on the educational system and on teachers. The first responsibility belongs to parents and the home. Unfortunately, far too many children are arriving at school unprepared to learn because parents are not spending quality time with them and providing the necessary discipline required to mould a successful student. I believe that if parents provide a well loved/nurtured child and become active partners in their child's education that the educational system will do its part in educating him/her so that illiteracy will not be a problem.

    • captain canuck
      January 28, 2013 - 12:32

      The education system stopped teaching people how to read, so we must put the blame on them. In PEI at least, the schools eschewed phonics in favour of some useless tripe called "whole language" method. Spelling was the first victim, then grammar. Now even logic is missing from most sentences.The result is evident in much garbage left by most people posting responses here. You however are very literate, so please don't think you're being attacked (it takes a literate to see a literate). Now to the parents... the parents of today are the victims of the "whole language" method and are ill equipped to help their children.

  • read this
    January 28, 2013 - 07:42

    An article I read recently connected illiteracy to poverty, a social condition PEI has in abundance. A lack of nutrition and nurturing, and the stress of unemployment passed down to children, actually retards brain development. It is toxic. But even these conditions can be mitigated with good teaching. The present methodology is bogus. Get the students back in rows. Teach them phonics and grammar and the rules of their own mothertongue. Ask them to think before they write and while they read. Teach them how to think, too. Literacy is not frivolous. It is essential so that the student can protect himself from the propaganda of politicians and corporations. And fire most consultants working for the Dept. of Education. The lot of them could be sent on a sabbatical to Tibet for a year, and the reading scores of Island students would not decline by a single point. They are freeloaders and grifters.

  • Shocked
    January 28, 2013 - 07:42

    Disgraceful and very sad. Time to "smarten up".

  • Dont Blame the Teachers
    January 28, 2013 - 07:40

    To "BE MORE HONEST" first of all turn off your caps lock you are shouting at the world, apparently your computer literacy skills need to be polished up! Secondly like the article states there are families in which all the members struggle with literacy, so when it comes to homework time who is helping the little ones read? Teachers teach the skills neccessary for children to learn to read but if those skills are not practiced properly while at home it is very hard for a child to become fully capable of reading at an appropriate level. As a society today we are looking to lay blame, pointing a finger at teachers, who are the front line in the battle against literacy, does not make any sense. Like someone much smarter than me once said...until you walk a mile in a mans know how it finishes!!!

  • Guardian Reader
    January 28, 2013 - 06:41

    and the Guardian has nearly a 90% readership.... what does that say?

  • Islander
    January 28, 2013 - 05:17

    WHY? The issues isn't back up the numbers, the issue is START TEACHING PHONICS in the classroom. We have a whole generation of teachers brought up on whole language and that is the method hat is being taught. The US first moved toward whole language many years ago and are in the process of switching back to phonics because overall, whole language does not work. Yes it is going to cost a whole lot of money and it is a paradigm shift for this generation but look at the statistics; the current system is not working. The problem is not that there are not enough teachers or resources or hours in the day, it is because we are using the wrong resources. Programs that are phonics based are having success such as OOKLA ISLAND featured on Dragon's Den last night. The people who created it sold the last phonics based program for $20 MILLION dollars, what does that say? Get that program or this new one into our kindergartens...start teaching it and seeing how many kids have literacy issues 15 years from now.

  • Piet Hein
    January 27, 2013 - 23:03

    If people want proof of low literacy on Prince Edward Island all they have to do is read some of the comments on The Guardian website. That will clear up any doubt.

      January 28, 2013 - 21:01

      Pet HEN... You are one of, if not the biggest contributor to this website. Which 50% do you belong to?

    January 27, 2013 - 20:22


    • LA
      January 28, 2013 - 10:38


    • Lynn
      January 29, 2013 - 10:12

      Your comment confirms what the article is saying. Your lack of ability to write in complete sentences, to use proper punctuation, and to spell words correctly indicates that you actually have a very low literacy level.

  • kevin p maynard
    January 27, 2013 - 20:19

    I knew there was another reason I love PEI, that being I too have literacy issues, however, what Islanders don't have according to standardized tests they certainly make up for with warm, friendly, people skills, fellowship, love , etc. Keep up the good work instilling priceless family values as well as unable to measure sincere goodness!

  • intobed
    January 27, 2013 - 18:40

    Almost half of Islanders have low literacy levels? I call BS on this one. Where did they do their surveys? Seniors homes and kindergarten classes?

    • irishnannie
      January 27, 2013 - 21:41

      That's quite a statement. I hope it can be backed up with supporting stats. Reputations are on the line when a statement like this comes out, IE; the information supplier, the reporter and last but not least, in this case, our educational system.