Tuesday, 29 April 2014

illiteracy in Canada

For the last two years I have been involved in a school program which brings Art to the school. The idea is to present art mostly painting to students in a fashion they can understand and maybe spark their interest. One difficulty I spotted right away was that a lot of children nowadays do not seem to know much despite attending school for several years. Vocabulary is poor, writing skills not much better and general knowledge is poor or non-existent, geography, history, math, logic and ability to compare or reason.

I have to tailor any presentation with simple language and try to explain any art work in terms that will not bewilder them. They are easily bored and lost on any given topic.

Imagine today reading a recent survey of illiteracy in Canada and the surprise I got in looking at the numbers. I knew we had a problem in Quebec per example with boys under 16 years of age, in that group 40% will abandon school before they graduate from grade 12.

The study spoke of all students male and female who finish high school, at graduation 56% will be unable to write or read properly meaning that they do not understand what they are reading and cannot write a complete sentence without making numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes. The percentage is not much better for basic math, 58% are unable to do simple math, adding, subtracting, multiplying, division.

Those who complete University at the bachelor level 48% cannot read or write properly and 44% cannot do simple basic math. This is very scary and does not bode well at all for the immediate future of Canada. It also raises the question of why are high schools and Universities graduating students who cannot write or read or do simple math. How did we ever get to this sad state of affairs. The study point to poor educational policies by our Politicians trying to do the PC thing and please parents, at the same time doing society at large a huge disservice. Ontario Education Department and other provinces have a NO Fail policy so no one can get a F score and a D is now a passing grade so that little Shirley or Bobby is not traumatized.

I have noticed that when I speak with someone under the 30 year old group I often encounter, lack of focus, lack of attention to details, incomprehension of basic facts, inability to relate to a topic which is more than 20 years old, let alone the simple knowledge of facts.

In many ways I find that our society for all its technology is returning to a place where you have some people who are educated and whose parents have taken a keen interests in their lives and the acquisition of knowledge and then the rest who are simply surfing through life and will be easy prey for manipulation by politicians or easily turned into compliant consumers.

Recently there was a debate about learning cursive writing, is it still necessary the host of the debate asked of panelists, one was from the Education Department of the Province of Alberta, this fellow claimed that in Alberta public schools were no longer teaching cursive writing because children today  have computers and so there is no need to learn to write. Ontario is considering this move too, though a decision has not been made yet. How very sad, it would appear that only private schools are the option for a good education at a tremendous cost.  


  1. Yeah, we don't need no friggin cursive writing here in Alberta.

    Actually, I'm sad to see cursive ability go too. When I was a kid in school, we spent countless hours learning how to write nicely. But you know, there is only so much time for teachers to teach what kids need to know TODAY. They need to know different things than we did because society has changed. Unfortunately, "the basics" get lost in the shuffle.

  2. The AB Minister of Education Jeff Johnson is an insolent embarrassment and a profound joke. Cursive writing is only one of the skills that are being removed from the AB education. Worse, math education is being so watered down that kids finishing Junior High, do not know how to multiply, without using the calculator. We are talking about Grade 9 children - I kid you not!!! This is an embarrassment of Canada in front of the world. If you are interested in this topic, please check out the following: http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2014/04/27/the-progressive-conservatives-say-96-per-cent-of-albertas-school-kids-are-succeeding-at-basic-math-do-you-believe-them/ I care about my son's education very dearly and I am astounded and shocked at the propaganda that is spewed out by the government of how well our kids are doing and how wonderful the education system is. A look at tests like PISA and comparison with other countries, demonstrates the real picture... We can and should be leading the peloton not riding behind it. Regards, Pawel

  3. we have the same problem in the states...they know all the lyrics to 50 rap songs, but can't recognize photos of any of the presidents...

  4. I wonder how much of this is the result of a modern matter: technology, vs. the universal lamentation of the older generation feeling the younger one is going to hell in a hand basket. I sense there is more of the former. Certainly when we go to anything 'cultural' the average age of the attendees is 70+. I don't see youngsters anymore. Technology as enhanced ADD, alas.