Levels of literacy in Canada

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We take a lot for granted. The thought occurred to me as I was reading the last novel for the University Women’s monthly book club. How fortunate we are to be able to read! Not only can we lose ourselves in the world and craft created by a particular author, but from a practical perspective, we can also fill out forms, read recipes, surf the internet, and do a dozen other things we don’t even think about. “In 2003, 52% of Canadians aged 16 years and over had literacy scores in the Level 3 category or above. Level 3 is generally considered to be the minimum level of literacy required to function well at work and in daily living. This means that nearly half of Canadians had low levels of literacy.” (www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=31). This astounding figure translates into various categories including age, region and language groups.

I am optimistic that children who are being educated today are not falling through the cracks. I am optimistic that children who experience difficulty these days are identified early so that special attention may be provided. This wasn’t always the case in the past. For whatever reason, thousands of people slipped through the education system. Many, I suppose, survived without others ever knowing about their limited literacy level. Consider what a remarkable talent it would take to navigate our word-driven world without being able to decipher it. I would assume that it would also require an immense amount of fortitude for these people to acknowledge that they needed help. Learning to read as an adult presents so many obstacles. Pride, of course is likely at the top of the list. As adults, we have mastered many skills. How crushing it would be to concede ones lack of a skill which so many take for granted!

For new immigrants to Canada, the need to learn the language of their adopted country is of paramount importance. Children learn quickly. Adults take longer. Plus, we all have different levels of aptitude and determination. Even though I learned English effortlessly at the age of eight, when I had to study French as a work requirement, I found the experience tested my very moral fibre. It had to do with frustration and humiliation and feelings of utter inadequacy. Initially, I could barely explain what I did for a living; not only was my grammar dexterity questionable, but so also was my vocabulary.

My mother came to Canada some 50 years ago. She learned English and became an avid reader on her own, at a time when programs such as English as a Second Language were not available. Today, how splendid it is for people in this community to have services on hand which will enable them to acquire new language skills. If you know of anyone who would benefit from language programs, be kind and tell them about the Tri-County Literacy Council, (www.tricountyliteracycouncil.ca or call 613-932-716). A wide range of programs are offered. You may even want to provide the Council with your help. Donations and volunteers are always gratefully accepted.

P.S. And, in case you are interested to know about the last book I was reading, find a copy of The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis: witty humour and silly satire about our political system. ;o)

Organizations: University Women, Tri-County Literacy Council, The Best Laid Plans

Geographic location: Canada

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