May 18, 2016 4:43 pm
Updated: May 18, 2016 5:10 pm

New Brunswick literacy expert calls for more training to teach children how to read

WATCH ABOVE: Saint John is the backdrop for a national conference of school principals and vice principals. As Global’s Andrew Cromwell reports, one leading academic wants more focus place on the skill of teaching children to read.

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Saint John is hosting the annual Canadian Association of Principals conference this week, but literacy levels in New Brunswick aren’t something to brag about.

The province has ranked at or near the bottom of a number of studies and assessments.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers insists the first years of school are fundamental when it comes to reading.

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“Children who do not learn to read well by end of Grade Three tend to be vulnerable all the way through the schooling,” said Dr. Doug Wilms, Canada Research Chair of Literacy and Human Development at the University of New Brunswick.

Wilms said teaching a child how to read requires a certain skill set – something he said is lacking across the country.

“I take my car in to get it fixed. The mechanic usually has more than 39 hours of instruction on how to fix my car,” said Wilms.

“But in our faculties of education across the country, the teachers get maybe one course, 39 hours of instruction on how to teach reading.”

He said improvements are needed when it comes to teaching children to read; this would lead to better results in assessments.

There is a feeling that New Brunswick teachers do have the tools to teach, but their jobs are not without obstacles.

“In the province of New Brunswick, we have some dedicated, highly skilled teachers, but they do face significant challenges every day,” said Tina Estabrooks, Saint John elementary school principal and co-chair of the conference.

“When we consider the fact that New Brunswick has a poverty rate that is substantial, that certainly does affect learning.”

The head of the New Brunswick Teachers Association applauds teachers abilities but says more supports are needed.

“We’ve lost a number of literacy mentors over the years, numeracy mentors,” said Guy Arseneault.

“I hope that the government will see those return in the Ed[ucation] Plan.”

The conference in Saint John comes just a few months before the province is expected to release a new education plan.

Global News asked Education Minister Serge Rousselle about the curriculum, but was told by a member of the department that specifics will not be made public until the plan is released.

The conference wraps up Thursday, May 19.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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