Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

An opinion piece in the Globe and Mail stated that 25% of children who finish grade 3 are set up for failure in grade 4. Their reading and writing levels are well below the minimum level necessary to succeed further in school. Many of these children come from poverty, are Indigenous children whose first language is not English or French and/or are children with special needs. 

The most important academic objective in school is proficiency in reading and writing by the end of grade 3, because it sets the foundation for understanding other skills and disciplines. Ensuring a child can read at this age allows them to develop successfully throughout the following grades. For a child who has not met the target reading level, the chances of catching up are extremely low. These disadvantaged children tend to fall even further behind during the summer before the new academic year, and often by grade 5 are three levels below where they should be. Throughout school such children continue to fall behind as they move up through the grades, and eventually perpetuate a cycle of dropping out or living in poverty only to watch their own children go through the same cycle. This situation may worsen with the pandemic as children who are at home with access to reading materials but no direct support are at a risk of falling further.

Any child, unless they have very complex needs, should be able to learn to read, if properly guided by their teachers and parents. However, few teachers are adequately prepared to handle the wide variation in language abilities among children in their classes. Parents, meanwhile, may not receive adequate updates as to how their children are doing, and parents of disadvantaged children are less likely to question schools despite being the most failed by them. Evidently, after the pandemic and now, much more needs to be done to ensure that all children are set up for success in grade 4 and beyond. They need to be taught to read and write at a level that at least meets minimal requirements, as well as ensuring that parents and teachers are supported in helping children learn. Canada has been failing its school-age children for too long despite extensive research. It’s now time to bring equity and fairness into the classroom, where it should have been all along.

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This post was written by Hibah Sehar