Illiteracy is Irrelevant
Why too many are focusing on the wrong problem.
Despite the myths, the number of Canadians who are illiterate – those can’t read or write at all – is very low. Still, many believe that illiteracy is a growing concern of epidemic proportions. The real problem isn’t those who cannot read or write at all, but those who can’t read or write enough – those with low level literacy.
While many believe the issue is those who cannot read or write, there is a growing population who suffers silently, muddle through their day and try to cope. In fact, almost 45% of Canadians that can read are considered to be semi-literate meaning that they do not have the literacy skills necessary to thrive in a job or fully contribute to society, although they can perform basic literacy tasks. And don’t assume that we’re only talking about the poor, new immigrants or those without much formal education – these are other myths. Although there is a correlation between low level literacy and these populations, the reality is literacy skills are like a muscle and if your day-to-day functions do not allow you to practice these skills, you will lose them. Ask anyone who hasn’t had to write a college level paper since graduating 15 years ago.
So to those of us who are asked to support, lead and guide those looking to brighten their futures, what can we do?
- First, recognize that low level literacy is a doomed future unless there is intervention. It has been tied to poorer physical health, increased risk of on the job accidents, lower rates of employment and lower job security.
- Second, ensure that training options provide the opportunity to increase literacy skills if necessary – look beyond the formal education. Some students or employees may have the paper that says they have been successful in their education, but the literacy skills they require for long term success are lacking. Although, they may have the skills to succeed for their next particular step, do they have enough to get that job, that promotion or gain college entrance?
- Third, get help from experts. You should turn to those who are trained about education and learning such as those with their Bachelors of Education (B.Ed.) and are aware of tools such as Essential Skills, IALS, current labour market demands and individualized programming – the battery of tools, programs and assessments available to them in order to give the right type of support and education. Ministry recognition, such as Private School registration through the Ministry of Education, provides an increased level of accountability and quality.
As our economy shifts more and more to the knowledge-based sector, declining literacy rates, not illiteracy, is what is going to make the largest impact on our workforce and communities.
I’d love to hear your take on literacy – your struggles, triumphs, ideas and opinions.