'Scars deeper than you realize': Human rights commission highlights dire need for reading supports in Sask.
A new report from the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission sheds light on systemic gaps in the province's approach to literacy and helping students living with reading disabilities.
The commission launched its review after receiving a group complaint on behalf of 29 families, all of which included children diagnosed with dyslexia.
“The families alleged that eight school divisions discriminated against their children on the basis of disability (dyslexia and other disabilities) and that the school divisions violated their children’s right to fair and equitable access to education,” the report says.
Dyslexia is a neurobiological condition characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.
According to the Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity, it’s estimated that 20 per cent of the population is affected by dyslexia – with the disorder representing 80 to 90 per cent of those with learning disabilities.
The commission consulted with students, families, educators, health-care professionals, advocates and community organizations as part of its report.
“Reading is a fundamental skill … Education systems are responsible for ensuring that every student learns to read,” said Barry Wilcox, interim chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
“All students, including those with disabilities, have the right to equitable access to education.”
Falling behind their peers was just one of many challenges faced by students with reading disabilities according to the report.
“The emotional trauma from school even now, two years out of it I am still unravelling,” one student told the commission. “Constantly being stressed and in fight or flight mode for 12 years can leave scars deeper than you realize.”
And the stress didn’t just affect students but entire families – adding not only emotional harm but financial.
“The financial burden has been overwhelming for our family … It has cost us thousands in tutoring costs,” one parent said in the report. “Our son has to do hours of tutoring after school leaving him no time to socialize or have any enjoyable extracurricular activities because we cannot afford the money or time after the cost of tutoring.”
This problem only worsened when considering Indigenous students.
According to the report, in the 2020-2021 academic year – only 37 per cent of Grade 3 Indigenous students in Regina Public Schools were reading at or above a Grade 3 level as opposed to the entirety of the Grade 3 population at 58 per cent.
This gap correlated with graduation rates as well – with 29 per cent of Indigenous people in Saskatchewan having no certificate, diploma or degree as opposed to 10 per cent of non-Indigenous people in the province.
Certain systemic themes became apparent through the commission’s consultation with stakeholders. They included:
- Negative impacts of reading disabilities on students and families, emotionally, socially and financially.
- Insufficient screening for reading disabilities.
- Complicated processes and systems for parents to navigate.
- Inadequate reading instruction and specialized intervention.
- Inconsistent accommodation.
- Long waits for professional assessment.
- Lack of teacher training and professional development regarding reading disabilities.
- Disproportionate reading outcomes for Indigenous students.
- Lack of supports and limited resources.
A key recommendation in the report was the focus on early detection.
“When it comes to reading disabilities the passage of time is one of the greatest enemies,” the report says. “The sooner remedial action can be taken the better the result. In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The report recommended a universal screening strategy – focusing on Kindergarten to Grade 3 students and using the process two to three times a year.
Also in its recommendations, the commission called for increased professional support for educators teaching reading as well as dealing with students with reading disabilities, enhanced date collection to track the effectiveness of new literacy programs and building on current reconciliation efforts to help bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ success in the classroom.
The report also referenced the long-term positives of an increased focus on literacy – citing research from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) showing improving literacy can be used as a tool to combat crime.
At the time of the report, 2.6 million Canadians who suffer from chronic low-income employment or unemployment require literacy support to improve their quality of life.
“A change to our education systems may have major, long-term benefits not only to those directly affected by learning disabilities but for the quality of life of millions of Canadians,” it says.
The commission’s full report, “Equitable Education for Students with Reading Disabilities” can be found here.
In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Education said it is aware of the commission's report and will need more time to review and examine connections and initiatives already underway.
"Included within Saskatchewan’s school operating funding in 2023-24 is $304 million for supports for learning, which is $4.1 million more than 2022-23 budget funding," the statement read.
"This funding provides for classroom supports to ensure that all students have equal access to, and benefit from, the provincial education program in an inclusive education setting."
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