The reader is perhaps not familiar with the mind boggling rates of illiteracy in the main industrialised countries, supposedly the most socially advanced on the planet: 22% in the United Kingdom, 30% in France, to name just a few; and even here in the second most populous province of Canada, according to the OCDE 1994 figures, an almost incredible rate of 38% of the adult population (50% in 2003) was considered illiterate to various degrees, that is, 2 million people (2.7 million in 2003) aged between 16 and 65 on a population between 7 and 8 millions, with a higher proportion in the layer aged between 16 and 25, which indicates that the problem is worsening.
This 1994 38% broke up into the following: 7 % were considered completely illiterate, since they were unable to read most written texts; 9 % could decode words, but were unable to understand the meaning of most sentences, while the remaining 22% could read only in a limited number of situations. Let us consider that all of these individuals have gone to school right up to high school level, since the Law makes it a mandatory requirement that our government provide schooling for all children up to the age of 16.
In 2003 (9 years later), a total rate of 50% of the same population aged 16 and more, was considered illeterate to various degrees, that is an increase of 12%, according to an International Inquiry on Literacy and Adult Competency (EIACA).
How could so many children (practically 5 out of 10) go through all of primary school, and be admitted in high school until they drop out, out of discouragement, without diploma, without their case being detected in time for them to be helped out by our educators, and first and foremost, without teaching methods being questioned?
In the 1950's, educational methods were such that even if parents did not get involved, primary school teachers succeeded in teaching most children who attended school to read to the level of autonomy, and this, by the end of the first year of primary school; which coincides, as explained in The Neurolinguistic Foundations of Intelligence, with the last year of childhood during which such learning remains relatively easy and the quality of which directly determines the ultimate comprehension ability that this individual will eventually reach.
But for reasons that have not been explained to parents, and even though the efficiency of this approach was well known at the time, and is still recognised world-wide by neuroscientists who are fully aware of the debilitating consequences of any delay in learning verbal abilities, educational methods have progressively drifted, particularly as the great Education Reform of the 1960's was carried out in the province of Quebec, towards a state that mandatorily required that parents provide an important level of support at home if their children were to completely master that skill, which is vital for their intellectual future.
Curiously, parents were never directly informed of this delegation of responsibility, or even that complete support was no more entirely provided at school starting in the late 1960's. From that point on in our history, only luck and chance availability of sufficiently educated parents who individually became aware of this situation has allowed their children to completely master reading skills by their 7th birthday.
To top that state of fact, which handicaps the children of so many educated parents unbeknownst to them, it must be realised that the group of 50% of illiterate adults (5 parents out of 10, mind you!) are functionally unable to provide such support to their kids, whence the vicious circle within which generation after generation of our children have been mired into for decades.
In this perspective, it is very hard to understand why the most recent Educational Reform (2001), still counts on a systematic implication of parents, and aims no higher than to have taught 500 words to children by the end of the second year of primary school, 1000 words by the end of the 4th year, and 1500 words by the end of the 6th grade, which is grossly insufficient for them to successfully deal with High School.
How then could we help these children of ill-informed or illiterate parents, children whose intellectual future seems irretrievably jeopardised by these minimalist objectives and unrealistic expectations that ill-informed or illiterate parents would take charge of a substantial complement of tutoring that can, in reality, only be given by qualified educators or sufficiently educated and aware parents; or that illiterate parents, generally poor for that very reason, could pay for special tutoring services outside of the public education system?
As far as children of ill-informed parents are concerned, there seems to be no other option than to consider a sustained information campaign to make them aware that their children will NOT learn to read properly if they do not themselves intervene to compensate for the obvious inadequacies of the current educational methods, and this, while their children are still young enough for proper tutoring to be totally effective.
But even if such a campaign proved totally successful, it wouldn't address the problem of the children of parents who, despite being sufficiently educated, are in no position to get personally involved, and, more often than not, do not even have the financial means to pay for special tutoring services, on account of the the relentless lifestyle imposed on them by consumer society and the family policies of our governments, which are particularly disheartening regarding single parent families.
For this latter category of children, as well as for the children of illiterate parents, final analysis leads to only one workable solution to this catastrophic social problem, which is that the public educational system takes charge once again of the full responsibility of bringing children to complete proficiency for reading and writing skills in pre-school and in the first year of primary school, which involves re-introducing methods as efficient as those that were so successful 50 years ago.
In reality, this tutoring could begin even in kindergarten or even at home, in an era when this practice is successfully spreading more and more in some European countries, for children as young as 3-4 years of age.
While the rate of High School dropping out decreased from 25% to 15% in Sweden and from 28% to 2% in Japan between 1982 and 1992 (Article in magazine L'Actualité of March 15 of 1992), it increased from 27,5% in 1986 to more than 50% in 1999 in Quebec according to the figure of the Quebec High Council for Education. At the college level (cegep) in the province of Quebec, 54% of boys and 39% of girls drop out without having obtained their diploma (DEC) which, let us be very aware, is merely the equivalent of Senior High School graduation in the rest of America, where College applies to the first University cycle.
Obviously, the authorities of these other countries have not lost sight of the importance of an appropriate level of mastery of reading and writing skills as an absolute pre-requisite to higher formal education of children.
As you read these lines, a minimum of 4 children out of 10 currently attending
the first grade of our primary schools will not learn to read! Much worse, the 1999 report
of the Conseil Supérieur de l'éducation [High Counsel of Education] reveals that
if for girls the rate of dropping out of high school is in the vicinity of 33%, for boys,
this proportion is now close to 70%, that is, almost 7 boys out of 10 !