Literacy is a social determinant of health (SDH). Early literacy proficiency contributes to improved health outcomes, increased health literacy, and future access to healthcare resources (Jacob et al., 2018). However — approximately 56% of children globally and 30.3% of Canadian children have inadequate reading skills (UNESCO, 2017; The Conference Board of Canada, 2012). Early literacy intervention prevents long-term health, academic, and socio-economic ramifications (Hernandez, 2011). A vital component of early intervention is literacy precursor screening tools which identify children at risk for potential reading difficulties, prior to future manifestation. Literacy precursors include phonological awareness (i.e., recognition and manipulation of language-specific sound segments), a cognitive-linguistic skill which predicts reading abilities in monolingual and bilingual children (Landerl et al., 2019).
Literacy screening tools have been primarily developed for English-speaking monolinguals, despite 50% of the world’s population being bilingual (Ryan, 2013). Bilingual children are disproportionately under-identified for language and reading difficulties at primary grade levels (Muñoz et al., 2014). This is partially due to limited heritage-language assessments. Developing linguistically-appropriate screening tools is an initial step towards supporting literacy development across the two languages of bilingual children. This includes heritage languages, such as Urdu, that are commonly spoken globally (ranked 11th; Eberhard et al., 2019) and in Canada (ranked in the top 10 most spoken heritage languages; Statistics Canada, 2016) — but under-represented in literacy research.
My PhD research project focuses on (i) predictive validation and (ii) theoretical relevance of a linguistically-appropriate literacy tele-screening tool for bilinguals at-risk of future reading difficulties, across Canada and Pakistan. The novel open-access tool will promote early reading intervention in vulnerable bilingual children and enhance our understanding of child biliteracy development.