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Gabriel Dumont Institute Library

Despite an overall high rank in literacy on the world stage, a recent survey shows some Canadians are missing reading and writing skills essential for everyday life. For those at the bottom, the consequences can be hazardous, according to Alice Samkoe, literacy programming supervisor at Regina’s Central Library.



The survey, done by the Organization for Economic Development (OECD), uses a five level system: at Level 1, the lowest level, a person is able to single out information from brief pieces of text – reading traffic signs, for example. More complex tasks requiring critical thinking, however, such as giving a classroom lecture, are at the higher end of the system.


OECD found 17 percent of Canadians are at or below the lowest level of literacy measured.


Imagine if you’re child is sick and you can’t read the label of a medicine bottle, you might give your child an adult’s dosage by mistake, putting them in jeopardy, Samkoe said.


“It’s the foundation to life. Literacy allows you to function in society. Could you imagine going to vote if you have no literacy skills?”


Tracy Laprise, a program coordinator for Adult Basic Education (ABE) at the Dumont Technical Institute, agrees.


“Just to do daily activities we need a level of competence in literacy and numeracy,” Laprise said. “Things like budgeting (for example). We all have bills to pay, groceries to buy – we all have things like that that are just part of everyday life. You have to have a basic understanding of how things work in order to be able to function effectively.”


While ABE can help adults who dropped out of school earn their Grade 12 equivalency, getting educated to improve such skills isn’t easy. Issues such as poverty can pressure a person to put working before learning, and literacy organizations aren’t well-funded, either, said Samkoe.


For children still within the K-12 system, how they develop is largely dependent on their parents, she said.


“I think the major concept that people don’t understand is they think if they teach the children in school to read and write, then they’re set for life. But what they don’t realize is if the parent doesn’t have literacy skills, the parent cannot help that child at home."


How educated a parent is can affect how much a child learns to value education, and without that sense of value, it can put a child at a huge disadvantage, Samkoe said.


"By reading to children, and talking especially, you increase their vocabulary, so that they’re capable of deeper thinking and better communication.”


Laprise said the biggest individual struggle for adult learners is the years they’ve been away from school. Time spent learning how to cope in society can foster bad habits that take time to “unteach,” she said. Bad memories from dropping out can also be an obstacle.


“We don’t ever want to repeat any negative feelings students had when they were in the K-12 system. Obviously, school didn’t work for them, for whatever reason. So, we’re trying to achieve the same goals as the K-12 system without repeating any of those negative feelings.”


Laprise said she also would like to see a greater focus on parenting skills, but would like to see more “counsellor-type people” to help former dropouts move on.


“When somebody was in school, at whatever age, and they dropped out – something happened in their lives, and I wish that we could help people go back to whatever happened and get through it," she said.


"I think in society overall we tend to focus on our failures and let it define us instead of saying ‘Okay, I can move past that. Something happened, but I can be successful now.’”

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