Literacy is finally being addressed - Macleans.ca

Literacy is finally being addressed

More than frustrating profs, literacy rates affect some students’ ability to graduate

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Colleges in Ontario are finally taking literacy seriously. Far from simply complaining that some students are entering college and university with low writing and reading skills, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario teamed up with Fanshawe College to see how this was impacting students.

Some students, they found, are “at risk of not completing their programs, due to deficits in language proficiency.”

In a knowledge-based, increasingly technically-oriented job market, these students aren’t completing their education not because they lack the intelligence, but because they lack the language skills of their peers.

And it’s not an uncommon problem. According to research by Canada’s National Adult Literacy Database, more than one in five Canadians has very low literacy skills. These people, though, are most likely to be older than 55 years or don’t speak French or English as their first language.

From a post-secondary education perspective, that largely means second career students and international students are most likely to see English literacy as their primary barrier to education.

“College-level [literacy] includes the ability to communicate in a clear, organized manner and with supporting evidence and examples,” study co-author Roger Fisher told Interrobang.

But depending on where these students go to school, the level of support varies widely. The HEQCO report states:

“Twenty-nine per cent of colleges relied solely on support services such as learning centres; 25 per cent on for-credit remedial, upgrading or foundations “transcript” courses that do not count toward program completion; 29 per cent on for-credit modified communications courses that do count toward degree completion; and 17 per cent relied on a combination of transcript and modified courses.”

HEQCO should be commended for their conclusions, which call for “a consistent approach to address the language needs of all students enrolled in Ontario’s colleges.”

That consistent approach, they suggest, is a mandatory literacy test to all incoming students. The bottom 10-15 per cent would be asked to take remedial classes to help them catch up to their peers. The tests would have no bearing on overall admittance, since they would be administered only after the students had been offered a position at the college.

These remedial classes, though, would ideally serve to put everyone on the same footing before anyone loses their balance. It’s a noble effort, and colleges across Ontario should be clamoring to take part in the growing program.

“As a follow-up to this project, HEQCO has recently commissioned a group of five Ontario colleges, led by Mohawk College, to evaluate whether their remedial courses improve the development of language skills and overall student outcomes,” the study concluded.

Those five should be applauded for their efforts to help students in every way possible.