How to Fight Illiteracy

Dr. Kay MacPhee discusses the 3 areas we need to address in order to end illiteracy


You wouldn’t expect it, but there is an illiteracy epidemic in North America. The ability to read well is critical to success in our global, knowledge economy, yet a large number of children are not learning to read well. As of 2015, 64% are behind in reading by grade 4. And if we do not immediately find solutions to this problem, children’s individual lives and society will be bearing the weight of illiteracy for generations to come.

Here are 3 areas to address in order to end illiteracy.

The Home Library

The biggest barrier to literacy is access to books. Children cannot learn to read if they don’t have age-appropriate reading materials. The price of books impedes low-income families from buying them for their children and without access to early reading materials, a child’s future academic success is at risk. Regular visits to the library to borrow books is one step all families can take to improve their child’s literacy outcomes.

Bedtime Reading

We lead busy lives, and often, the bedtime reading routine gets pushed aside. Bedtime stories are more than a cozy snuggle; they help children learn the pleasure of a good story. By listening to a book, they learn the way words complement the illustrations, how to read with expression, and develop a richer vocabulary. Studies have shown that regular parent-child verbal interaction, including stories, improves a child’s emergent literacy skills.[2]

The Learning Environment

Kids go to school and sit in a classroom with 25 other kids, and one teacher teaches them all how to read. A one-size-fits-all classroom setting with limited personalization and varying approaches across teachers and school boards creates gaps in children’s literacy skills from school to school across the country. There’s often a lack of open communication and knowledge transfer to those who have the biggest impact in their child’s education and future, the parents. At Ooka Island, we provide parents with real-time progress reports, generated from a child’s visits and provide a detailed picture of where they’re excelling or having difficulty. We will also send tips, reading worksheets and other free resources.

Finally, the best way to end illiteracy in children is to lead by example. Children mimic their parents behaviour, so show them how important reading is for life.


Dr Kay MacPhee is a literacy expert, reading researcher and lifelong educator.  As co-founder and director of learning and research at Ooka Island, her knowledge, passion and commitment has helped over 25,000 children and adults  learn how to read.

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