CAROLINE PLANTE, MONTREAL GAZETTE
QUEBEC — Many English-speaking Quebecers are illiterate to the point of not being able to get their driver’s license or help their children with homework. That Quebec is investing an additional $20 million a year in literacy programs is great news, according to Margo Legault, executive director at Literacy Quebec.
The not-for-profit organization counts 13 centres across Quebec dedicated to helping Anglo-Quebecers improve their literacy skills.
“A lot of people when they think of literacy think ‘Oh it’s not an issue in Quebec because everyone has to go to school and they can read and write’,” Legault said. “But there are levels of literacy that affect your daily life; you can’t manage your health if you can’t understand how to take your prescription. If you can’t balance a budget, that can also affect your financial situation and stress levels. Also your civic participation, a lot of people are afraid to go vote because they don’t understand how the system works or how to fill out a ballot.”
Legault said her organization’s budgets haven’t been indexed in “many, many years,” and, as result, literacy centres have had to downsize and cut staff.
“We have staff that hasn’t had a pay increase in years, I’m talking 10-15 years,” she said.
Speaking at the educational success consultations that took place Friday in Quebec City, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx said he’s boosting literacy groups’ annual funding to $27.3 million a year, up from $18.3 million, with part of the additional $20 million investment. The extra money will also include $4 million to be divided up among school boards for literacy programs, $1.3 million to companies to provide employees with literacy training, $200,000 to Quebec’s Literacy Foundation, and funds to set up a new help line for parents.
Legault said she’s anxious to see how much will go to English groups. “We’re 13 groups out of 183 and we cover very large territories, and when you look at the amount of funding that’s received for each group, we’re on the lower end of the spectrum.”
PQ education critic Alexandre Cloutier called the investment “a step in the right direction,” but argued the minister is putting back money the Liberals cut at the start of their mandate.
“We have to remember that it’s the same government that cut these organizations,” Cloutier said, adding he expects the government to also loosen its purse strings to help students with special needs.
More contentious proposals that have been kicking around the Liberal party, such as mandatory schooling until 18, a professional order for teachers and kindergarten for four-year-olds, are still being reviewed.
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