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Toronto Star - Editorial - Wise Investment in Ontario Schools

Jun. 23, 2004.
Toronto Star
Editorial: Wise investment in Ontario schools

A new study that links a society's literacy rate to its economic well-being;_id=131 makes a compelling case for the Ontario government's recent moves to funnel more resources into improving performances in its schools. The study compared literacy and economic growth in 14 industrial countries over a 35-year period. It concluded there is a direct link between education and a country's standard of living.

If Canada, for instance, could raise the literacy levels of the average citizen by a mere 1 per cent, it would translate into an $18 billion annual jump in national income, according to the study released by Statistics Canada.

That has profound implications for the future of Ontario. Nearly half of our students failed province-wide literacy and math tests in recent years.

The Statistics Canada report is an indication that Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy is on the right track with his ambitious goal of improving those test scores. Kennedy wants the pass rate to grow to 75 per cent by 2008, and for all children to have basic literacy by age 8. And as he shown he is prepared to spend money to reach his goals.

He has moved quickly since the Liberals took over last fall, starting with $112 million in emergency funding to add remedial programs in the neediest schools and hired an additional 1,100 teachers to bring in a cap on class sizes from kindergarten to Grade 3 starting in the fall.

In his latest move, he has quadrupled the number of so-called "lead" teachers specialists in reading and writing from 4,000 to 16,000. The teachers will provide backup support to classroom teachers, working one-on-one with students, when necessary. The plan is to see two math and two English lead teachers in each elementary school.

Kennedy has measures planned, including amending the curriculum to devote more time each day in the classroom to reading and math. He also plans to boost the number of "turnaround" schools those that have traditionally performed poorly on standardized tests get extra help from "SWAT" teams of educators.

The Ontario government is right to develop a comprehensive strategy to attack illiteracy and for moving quickly on it. But the government should not forget early child hood education, which is another investment that has a big payoff in the years ahead.

By the time children get to Grade 1, it may be too late to help those who have already fallen behind, another recent study shows. The study, prepared by child development expert Dr. Fraser Mustard, compared children's readiness for kindergarten and standardized test results in Grades 3 and 6. It found children who lag behind in the early grades generally remain behind other students years later.

Many factors contribute to low literacy rates. Schools can't take all the blame. If kids never see their parents pick up a book, why should they view reading as important? Literacy is very much a family affair.

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LAST MODIFIED: November 04 2004 20:45:35

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