The state of Literacy on PEI is in crisis
by Gloria Welton
Almost half of adults on PEI do not have the skills needed to thrive in our digital, knowledge-based society. (According to the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.)
Forty percent of kindergarten-aged children on PEI who completed the Early Years Evaluation did not meet the developmental milestones in at least one of the five skill areas (2017 Children’s Report.)
Close to 1,000 children a year are referred to PEI Literacy Alliance’s summer tutoring program by PEI resource teachers.
Jinny Greaves, Executive Director of PEI Literacy Alliance, says the Alliance’s vision is that everyone can reach their highest achievable literacy level. The Alliance continues to work with community partners, government departments, and businesses to change the present state of literacy on PEI.
“It is important to support the literacy skills of people at all ages. However, our recent strategic focus has been on family literacy and getting books into the homes of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. We know that early interventions are the most cost-effective approach over a person’s life. If children are not reading at grade level by grade three, statistics say it becomes four times more likely that those children will not complete high school.”
The Alliance has been in operation for 31 years and recently unveiled its new mission. “We are excited to have a new mission statement that reflects the needs of the community, the work that we do, and what makes our organization unique,” says Colin Beck, recently appointed Chair of the Alliance. “Our new mission is to ensure that literacy barriers are minimized and gaps in services are filled so that all people on PEI reach their highest achievable literacy level.”
“Over the years, the Alliance has helped tens of thousands of people on PEI achieve their highest level of literacy,” says Nathan Steeves, past chair.
The Alliance offers the following programs to children and adults:
Ready Set Learn celebrated its 20th year this summer! This program offers free summer tutoring for children who struggle with reading, writing, and math. It is for children in grades K to 6 in English, French Immersion, and Francophone programs across PEI. Each child receives one hour of tutoring per week for eight weeks.
This past summer, 17 tutors were hired to work with 544 children to boost literacy skills, confidence, and learning attitudes. “Our goal was to help close to 800 children but because of COVID-19 restrictions and funding, our numbers were affected,” says Christine Snowden, Ready Set Learn Manager.
“There is an incredible partnership between this program and the PEI Public Library Services across the Island. In 2020, the program was online because of COVID-19 but this past summer, the tutors worked with the children in the public libraries and had access to all their resources.
“We also partnered with Holland College this past summer. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the number of tutors we could have in public libraries was reduced. Holland College stepped up and gave us two free classrooms to use over the summer for seven of our tutors.”
Imagination Library and Free Books for Kids was launched in 2020 through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program. The Imagination Library gives out free books to inspire a love of reading in children and families.
The program was made possible with strong support from the Province, Rotary Clubs of Charlottetown, Montague, and Eastern PEI, Charlottetown Royalty, Hillsborough, the Rotary Literary Foundation, and generous private donations.
By March 2021, 16,214 books were distributed, giving children access to their own library at home. “I believe Statistics Canada has reported that about 25 percent of Canadian homes do not have a single book in them,” says Amanda Beazley, Family Literacy Director. “We are working to reduce that statistic.”
The Alliance also distributes free children’s books to families in need through the Food Bank Christmas hamper program across the province in partnership with the PEI Public Library Services.”
Essential Employability Skills is a free program for adults that includes 180 hours of classroom training and six‐week work placements. It is a partnership with other literacy organizations in Atlantic Canada. This program is funded by the Federal Government’s Skills for Success Program.
“This past year, due to COVID‐19, the program was delivered online,” says Lily Reaman, Essential Employability Skills Manager. “In 2020, we helped nine adults gain literacy and employability skills. Of these nine, seven gained full-time employment. We also worked with five supervisors and managers to build their mentoring skills so that when their new employees arrived at the work sites, they were ready to support them.”
“I have skills I will take with me throughout my career and in life,” says one program graduate, who has gone on to take a Holland College full-time program.
The Alliance is very focused on building confidence in adults and children when it comes to learning. “All that potential can be brought to light with a little bit of opportunity and support, and people can end up doing so much more than they ever thought they could,” says Jinny.
“We work hard each day to ensure Islanders are better informed about literacy, the supports that are needed, and those that are available.”