N.B. students continue to lag in basic reading and writing skills

OROMOCTO, N.B. – When it comes to basic reading and writing skills, New Brunswickers continue to fall behind.

According to Statistics Canada, about 53 per cent of New Brunswickers are functionally illiterate. That means many people in the province can read street signs, write their own names, but have trouble with reading beyond that.

Tara Gray is the executive director at the Central Valley Adult Learning Association in Oromocto. The non-profit centre is one of 170 programs in the province that help adults get their high school equivalency diploma.

Gray says she’s not surprised by the statistics.

“Most of the time people think about not being literate as the inability to read a book, to read a newspaper, to understand what’s happening in every day society,” she said.

“They aren’t necessarily thinking about ‘I can’t read the instructions on the medicine bottle that I need to give to my child.’”

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One of the problems that Gray sees is students being passed from grade to grade, even when they’re not ready. She says it’s difficult for teachers to cater to everyone, so some students end up being forgotten.

“There is no one mold that fits everybody. So as they try to help each of these individuals learn, absolutely. Some of them are lost in the cracks,” she said.

“And based on stories that parents and learners have shared, they are pushed through to the next grade, and hope that they will grasp that concept.”

One of those students was Trisha Sabattis. The 34-year-old left school at age 16. She says she was supposed to be held back, but she was bumped up two grade levels, even though she was failing.

“I was in grade nine, and I had failed a couple of grades, but they upgraded me from grade nine to 11, and I didn’t know what I was doing. So I quit,” said Sabattis.

“I was always bugging people to help me or even trying to copy, because I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Now, Sabattis is working towards her GED. She hopes it will help her land a job.

“I need an education because you cannot get a job without a grade 12. Or the equivalency of a grade 12. Even at McDonalds it’s good to have a grade 12, right?”

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Justin Arseneault hopes his GED will help him get into the military. The 23-year-old dropped out at age 17.

But after about three months, Arseneault has a new diploma, and a new outlook.

“It felt amazing. Like I thought I could do anything.”