Regional Literacy Action Plan

The Atlantic ministers of education and training announced on September 25, 2009 the release of a regional plan to address literacy rates in Atlantic Canada.

Literacy: Key to Learning and Path to Prosperity – An Action Plan for Atlantic Canada 2009-2014 outlines a series of regional initiatives that the Atlantic ministers of education and training will undertake over the next five years to promote literacy within Atlantic Canada. These initiatives will support early childhood literacy, public education, and adult and workplace literacy.

The regional initiatives will support measures undertaken by provincial governments, community groups, the private sector, labour groups and the public, to promote and improve literacy skills within each province. Ministers of education and training value the collaboration and are committed to maintain these important relationships with these partners.  

This literacy action plan also complements steps undertaken by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) to promote literacy throughout the country.

Early Childhood Literacy

Atlantic provincial governments recognize that the development of literacy skills is, ideally, a process which starts at an early age. The Early Years Study in Ontario (McCain and Mustard, 1999) and subsequent follow-ups to these studies (McCain and Mustard, 2002; McCain, Mustard and Shanker, 2007) suggest that appropriate stimulation is required from a child’s earliest days in order to develop the neurological connections needed to prepare the child for later cognitive development. It is argued that many children lack this stimulation, for various reasons, and that children entering school with deficits in early cognitive development are likely to find it difficult to catch up to their better prepared peers. 

The ministers of education and training intend to work with their provincial colleagues in health, social services and social development to identify specific actions that will promote early literacy and early interventions.

Public Education

The capacity to achieve strong literacy progress for all students, regardless of their backgrounds, is a key indicator of public education success.  Often referred to as “raising the bar and narrowing the gap,” the efficacy of a school system depends on its ability to both raise the overall literacy achievement levels of its population and to narrow the gap between low and high performing students. 

In almost all pan-Canadian and international assessments, students in the Atlantic region have shown a small but persistent gap in achievement relative to the Canadian average.

This action plan will focus on regional activities presented under four major themes: literacy teaching, literacy learning, literacy leadership and literacy in the curriculum. These themes will include essential elements in an effort to make significant long-term changes for improving literacy and in effecting systemic change:

  • a culture of professional learning and shared leadership;
  • a cohesive set of values, beliefs and understandings about language and literacy learning;
  • expertise in data driven decision making;
  • high quality materials and resources;
  • expertise in instructional practice;
  • articulated roles and coordination of all staff personnel.

The challenge in Atlantic Canada is to ensure an equitable future for students from Atlantic Canada with their Canadian counterparts, and to diminish the gap between higher and lower performing Atlantic Canadian students. This will require a coherent and systematic approach, including investment in early childhood development and in formal education systems at all levels. 

Adult and Workplace Literacy

Literacy is not a static skill set, and societal changes continue to impact the level of literacy skills required by individuals.  Literacy skills are developed throughout a lifetime, a continuum of learning that we all participate in, from early childhood, through public education to adulthood.  Development of these skills should be seen as a natural function of lifelong learning. 

In adulthood, weak literacy skills can have a profound impact on people’s lives. Individuals’ accounts of the challenges they face are plentiful: parents unable to read to their children; adults struggling to read and understand instructions on prescription labels; workers finding it difficult to adapt to change because they have difficulty reading instruction manuals or health and safety instructions.  Too many people face these challenges on a day-to-day basis.   

This action plan embraces four major themes related to adult and workplace literacy that will contribute to the development of a highly skilled labour force and position Atlantic Canada to prosper within the knowledge economy. These encompass raising awareness of the socio-economic benefits of improving literacy and essential skills and to encourage employers and industry groups to value literacy and essential skills programs; eliminating barriers to learning opportunities and assure relevance and value to the learner; increasing professional standards, knowledge and skills in teaching/facilitating adult literacy and essential skills; and improving the quality and effectiveness of adult literacy and essential skills delivery.

Studies have clearly linked literacy levels and individual, societal and economic prosperity. Raising literacy levels is therefore imperative to ensure the future prospects of the Atlantic region and its citizens. In doing so, the region must strive for excellence in its preparation of young children for learning, its education of school-age children, and in providing relevant, diverse learning opportunities for adults.