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Improving childhood literacy

Research has found children who are behind in their language and literacy skills when they start school rarely catch up to their counterparts, unless they receive a targeted and well-planned reading intervention program. While completing her PhD at the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Education, Erin Schryer sought to create such a program to help preschoolers.

Literacy rates in New Brunswick are among the lowest in Canada.  Half of the population lives in rural areas and because the province is bilingual, minority language children can find it difficult to develop early language skills.

Through a Mitacs Accelerate internship with Mariner Partners Inc., Erin’s research discovered that children could improve their reading skills through short video lessons four times per week over just five weeks.

Erin created a 20-part TV series on DVD, using animation of children’s books and a host character, to teach reading skills in a way that was engaging to preschoolers.

“The series is aimed at children within the emerging literary stage of their development, before they start school, and teaches foundational skills which research shows are critical for children learning how to read.

Her approach focused on outreach potential, since reaching more children to teach them early language and literacy skills is vital.

“One of our goals was to create a program that is widely accessible, especially to people in rural areas of the province, which we have achieved by making it available on DVD.”

During the two year development phase, the program was tested on children, with significant improvements seen in their literacy rates after just five weeks when compared to a control group that were not shown the DVDs.

Susan Almon, a senior consultant with Mariner Partners Inc., said the company funded the project to help improve literacy and give children a better start to their education.

“It was a chance to see potential business opportunities and partnerships we want to get involved in.  It was also a great opportunity for Erin to meet with real business people and get advice on her research from industry.”

Erin said research such as this into the social sciences will have far-reaching benefits.

“I’m focusing on how we can use digital technology to help with literacy within the larger frame of working to increase reading skills of all Canadians, which of course is directly linked to a better educated society and stronger economy.”

Mitacs gratefully acknowledges the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Government of New Brunswick for their support of Mitacs Accelerate in the province.