New research released last week from Canadian participation in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) ranks adult competencies in the NWT second from the bottom out of the 13 provinces and territories.
While disappointing, those results are not surprising, Helen Balanoff, executive director of the NWT Literacy Council, told The Journal.
“Given the dropout rates in the NWT, it’s not really surprising that we see lower skills among young people and adults,” Balanoff said. “If you drop out of school at Grade 9, for example, you’re not going to have the kinds of skills that people who finish high school and then go on to college or university have.”
Balanoff said one explanation is that schools in general are a “fairly new phenomenon” in the North. That, combined with the lingering effect of residential schools, language barriers and community isolation, presents educators with numerous obstacles.
A similar situation is seen in Nunavut, where the survey scores found were the lowest in Canada.
This is the first year Canada participated in the PIAAC survey, which assesses prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem solving in a technological environment. Twenty-four countries conducted the survey.
In the NWT, a total of 900 residents in 13 communities were surveyed, 450 of which were Aboriginal along with 450 non-Aboriginal residents.
While literacy and numeracy scores in the NWT were below Canadian and worldwide average, problem solving in a technology-rich environment scores were above average.
The most recent adult literacy data for the NWT was collected in 2003 from an International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), which led to the development of the current NWT Literacy Strategy.
New data from PIAAC will be analysed in comparison to IALSS data in order to determine best practices and future strategies.
“The data provides us with what we need to know to ensure we continue to build a stronger education system. It is also critical to understand where we need to address our program gaps for skills and training, and ensure the needs of our adult learners are being met,” Jackson Lafferty, minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE), said in a press release.
This is the first time the NWT Literacy Council has had access to raw data from a territory-wide survey on literacy, and Balanoff said in-house researchers will be drawing conclusions in tandem with the GNWT.
Several literacy programs are currently being reassessed by ECE in partnership with Aurora College and the NWT Literacy Council, including the Adult Literacy and Basic Education program, the Adult Recognition Model and programming for out-of-school and at-risk youth in small communities.
New this year for the NWT Literacy Council are several short-term “embedded” literacy programs, which include a young mothers’ nutrition and cooking program featuring literacy exercises, for example.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight, so programs that people are working on now, we probably won’t see a lot of difference for five or more years. But we always hope that change is faster than that,” Balanoff said.
She said governments, both territorial and federal, need to consider that approaches to literacy in the North must take into account the unique challenges residents face.
“The NWT and Nunavut have some different issues than those in the south, so a one-size-fits-all does not work. It’s important that training is tailored,” she said.
For more information on the PIAAC survey or to view the full report, go online to www.ece.gov.nt.ca/features/programme-international-assessment-adult-competencies.