Imagine New Brunswick as the Learning Province

Two years ago the NB2026 Roundtable identified literacy, education and training – under the rubric of learning – as one of the principal roadblocks to New Brunswick’s development and prosperity and set out to do something about it.

A two year citizen’s engagement was started that ended up reaching out to nearly 5,000 New Brunswickers through a series of public sessions across the province and direct discussions with learning and education related stakeholders.

This engagement culminated with a provincial forum held in November where 70 different learning-related stakeholders got together and crafted a vision for the province. They want to make New Brunswick “the learning province of Canada”.

This is an ambitious vision. According to the International Adult Literacy Skills Survey, more than half of New Brunswick’s adult population can’t read, write or do math well enough to meet the challenges of everyday life and work. Further, a significant percentage of young people are exiting the education system (either prematurely or with a diploma) without sufficient literacy and numeracy skills.

Some people may be rolling their eyes right now. What makes this initiative any different? New Brunswick’s literacy problem has been well known for decades and successive governments have at least nominally made it a priority.
This initiative is different. The normal way for New Brunswick to tackle collective problems is by citizens complaining and governments promising to do something. This initiative has taught us that literacy is not a ‘government’ problem. Addressing it will be a ‘projet de société’.

At the provincial forum over 60 initiatives were identified involving a range of public sector, private sector and non-governmental organizations across the province.

By Grades 2-3 we can identify with almost 100 percent accuracy which kids will go on to do well in school and which will fall through the cracks. Imagine enlisting an army of retired teachers, nurses and other public servants in every community around the province as tutors and mentors for these ‘at risk’ young people.

Imagine thousands of small businesses around the province committing to a learning agenda in the workplace and putting programs and incentives in place for staff to upgrade their skills.

Imagine thousands of young people engaging with senior citizens to help them learn how to use the Internet and build their 21st century literacy skills.

Imagine provincial and federal governments making a serious commitment to the tens of thousands of New Brunswickers who collect Employment Insurance each year that are stuck at the lowest skills and literacy levels. We spend a huge amount of taxpayer dollars on ‘training’ every year. Imagine if we tied that spending to the learning agenda.

Imagine mayors and municipal councils all across the province vying to win the ‘Learning Community of the Year’ award by taking deliberate steps to promote literacy.

In short, imagine a learning agenda that engages the broadest possible coalition of New Brunswickers from all corners of society. Then, as my father says “you are cooking with gas”.

The learning agenda is being led by Andy Scott, Marie-Paule Thériault and the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Jody Carr. It has also been wholeheartedly endorsed by Premier David Alward.
I’m a big fan of Andy Scott. He has tackled some of the most complex public policy issues over the years. Having him at the helm gives the initiative much greater chance of success.  Minister Carr has a lot on his plate these days. He looks a little frazzled but he has made this a key priority for him and his department. It will be crucial to align the enormous resources of government with the initiatives developed through the learning agenda.
The learning agenda is one of those initiatives that could transform the province. Or it could go down in flames. For the sake of our future, I hope it takes off.

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7 Responses to Imagine New Brunswick as the Learning Province

  1. If it is possible to tell at grades 2 and 3 which kids will be successful, I’d argue that intervention is required before then.

    Is it time to look at introducing a Junior Kindergarten? I don’t see that being a possibility in these fiscal times.

  2. Tony says:

    I initially misunderstood the headline, but maybe there is an idea worth exploring. Why not position NB as a learning province from an economic development perspective (i.e. a centre for distance learning delivery)? Maybe something similar to what Frank McKenna did with call centres, only this time would be a higher-end kind of service that essentially needs the same kind of physical infrastructure. I am not very familiar with the sector, but NB is in need of ideas, so I thought I would give my contribution :)

  3. mikel says:

    I”d REALLY disagree with that, but the project, like ANY project getting people involved, is a great one. Forget Andy Scott though, the success lies in seeing that those retired people actually DO get involved.

    I’ve never seen a single study that has found students having trouble in grade two and ‘falling through the cracks’. The initiative should look at ANYONE having trouble, and of course, IF you have that many adults with literacy problems, then a big question is how to get skills to people who aren’t in an institution.

  4. James Rath says:

    is this a unique situation peculair to N.B. or would the same dismal literacy numbers apply to N.S., P.E.I., ONT. etc…

  5. The Atlantic Provinces have lower levels of literacy and score lower on the PISA than most other provinces.

  6. David K says:

    Having worked throughout Atlantic Canada in a variety of manufacturing and service firms, as a staff engineer and consultant, I have seen the ill effects of low literacy and numeracy rates on the profitability and ultimately the success or failure of enterprises. Much of our secondary manufacturing, requiring unskilled or semi-skilled labour, is of the custom variety and employees have to be able to interpret customers’ desires and drawings and be able to perform some simple arithmetic. There are too many cases of errors concerning basic instructions causing expensive rework, missed deliveries and costly overtime and expedited shipping to catch up on lost lead time.
    Why can’t schools in these communities, which are idle in the evenings, be utilised as night schools? I’m sure volunteer teachers could be recruited from current or retired teachers, retired managers, engineers, accountants etc. who have a stake in the success of their community and the success of their former employer upon whom their retirement income depends. It would also require that governments and companies encourage citizens lacking in literacy to enroll. We need an education revolution to fight illiteracy.

  7. Michel says:

    A few stats that support part of what you have indicated. In the old school district 1 (french greater Moncton), from 5088 students last yeat 675 had reading difficulties. Most of them are dyslexic ususally 8 to 12% of the students are. The province has not put any efforts to increase ressources to help (reeducate) these kids. ‘Projet de société’ on my view is just a political spin. We have met Minister Carr and he had a hard time listening to us. He spent our time with him talking about the great effort he spent on bullying.
    The dyslexic kids have an intelligence that is greater than the average, for example my 8 year old daughter is dyslexic and she score 90/100 (50 is the Canadian average). With the right ressources these kids can learn properly how to read and calculate and has a society we can improve our stats and our workforce by focusing on the 10% that are recuparable. This is how we can improve our future workforce by putting the money where it is needed not spin a ‘projet de société’.

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