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North Forge Technology Exchange and the Province of Manitoba want residents and innovators to pitch ideas on how to improve early childhood education in the province.

North Forge president Jeff Ryzner made the announcement at Winnipeg’s Millennium Library this morning.

“What’s happening in communities all over Manitoba is up to 77 per cent of the kids entering kindergarten and Grade 1 are not ready to learn the curriculum,” Ryzner said. “They’re not experiencing that early childhood intervention where they’re absorbing language and numbers at the rate they need to in order to be successful in academics.”

According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, at age 15 Manitoba students are falling behind the rest of the country when it comes to literacy and numeracy. Manitoba ranks 8th and 9th among the 10 provinces in those categories.

Ryzner says a lack of early childhood education is the cause for these low scores and can spur social problems for youth as they grow older.

According to the Literacy Foundation in Montreal, people who are illiterate typically have lower incomes, lower self-esteem, less job opportunities and an unemployment rate 2-4 times higher than those with schooling.

This means the chances of living in poverty increase for those who struggle with literacy.

“There have been more than a few studies that link a lack of literacy to so many different issues,” Ryzner said. “An investment in early childhood literacy and numeracy almost has a holistic impact on our economy, our social well-being and almost everything you could possibly imagine.”

“If we are to say the people are the greatest resource in this province, then we have to invest in the people.”

Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart said in a release the province is developing new plans to improve outcomes in the education system with a focus on literacy and numeracy in early years.

“Interventions in early childhood have the largest proportional impact on outcomes compared to school-aged and adult interventions,” Wishart said.

A number of organizations are partnering on this project, including private businesses and post-secondary institutions like Red River College and the University of Manitoba.

Ryzner says despite his organizations’ name, the ideas don’t have to be technology-based.

“We want everyone in the province to participate and we don’t want people being discouraged from sending in their ideas because they’re not tech ideas.”

The public can submit ideas in person at a number of events North Forge has planned, or they can submit them online until Jan. 11, 2018.

After that a panel of judges will evaluate the proposals, with the top selections moving on to prototyping and piloting in the community.

You can find out more information and submit your ideas at wearethesolution.ca.