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Western awarded for language
By Yasna Markovic
Western researchers have been awarded $14.2 million to improve literacy and language skills.
According to Paul Bennett, communications co-ordinator for the National Centres of Excellence, the funding, which will be dispersed over a four-year period, will come from taxpayers.
Researchers will study children who have disorders along with multi-cultural and multi-lingual children, said Genese Warr-Leeper, a Western communications, sciences and disorders professor and co-author and researcher for the National Centre of Excellence. They will also examine computer software that is currently available for teaching and develop some of their own.
"[The funding] indicates government priority to child development," Bennett said. "A lot of people don't have basic [communication] skills. We're hoping it will give kids confidence in themselves," he added. Bennett said employers often complain that people applying for jobs lack basic reading, writing and communication skills.
He said the NCE is funded through three government agencies, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Don Jamieson, scientific director of the National Centre of Audiology at Western, will head up the new research program. He said he was not shocked by the results of recent grade 10 literacy tests in Ontario, which one third of students failed.
"This isn't news," he said, "We're talking about one third of the population that is falling behind." Statistics Canada reports have confirmed literacy problems for years, he said, adding "Canadians don't have adequate literacy skills."
"It is very important for us to make sure that our society is as literate as possible," Warr-Leeper said. "We hope the project will add to what we know about how literacy develops," she explained.
"We know that literacy skills start in infancy," Warr-Leeper said. She added the project co-ordinators want to investigate literacy from its origins in infancy. "If you look at a mom speaking to a baby, she is teaching the baby to interact," she said.
Western will be the administrative centre for the research, but researchers from across Canada will join in, Jamieson said. The researchers will come from a variety of academic backgrounds, including social psychology, economics and speech pathology.
Jamieson confirmed there will be five research teams handling five to 10 projects each. The funding will also be used to implement fellowship programs so that childcare professionals can attend workshops and train workers at their agencies.
"Overall, [humanity] is being able to communicate," Warr-Leeper said.