By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
NEEPAWA, Man. — In today’s world, having strong literacy skills is extremely important. While traditional forms of written communication may be declining in popularity, the importance of literacy may in fact have increased.
While few of us still write letters, we still write emails to communicate for business or to catch up with with friends and family. We read the news in papers or online, even if it’s just catching up with friends on Facebook.
In Canada, each February is celebrated as “I Love to Read Month” and encourages reading, writing and sharing the joy of literacy. In proclaiming the month, provincial Education Minister Peter Bjornson said, “When you consider the profound effect reading and writing have on our everyday lives, it’s clear that access to quality education is a basic human right that every child deserves. Literacy empowers individuals, and enriches families and communities.”
In the hopes of raising adults with strong literacy skills, children are the primary target of literacy campaigns. Research shows that children tend to hit three potential reading slumps that can have an impact on the development of their reading skills. The first one is when they enter kindergarten, the second during Grade 4 and the third when they enter high school.
Educational initiatives have done a good job reducing levels of illiteracy, but there are still about nine million Canadian adults who, while they can read to some degree, are challenged by low literacy. These individuals simply need additional help to raise their literacy skills to a level where they can engage fully and confidently in regular work and life activities.
Low literacy skills have a profound impact on people’s lives. Adults with low literacy are more than twice as likely to be unemployed and earn 60 per cent less than workers who can make complex inferences and evaluate subtle truth claims or arguments in written text. According to ABC Life Literacy Canada, about 57 per cent of adults aged 16 to 65 at Level 1 were employed compared to more than 80 per cent of those who scored at the highest literacy level, Level 4/5. Even an increase from Level 1 to Level 2 had noticeable increase employment rates, close to 70 per cent of individuals at Level 2 were employed.
As Canada’s economy continues to shift towards complex tasks that are increasingly reliant on technology, literacy skills become ever more important.
Not only do those with lower levels of literacy face challenges in the job market, low levels of literacy also limit their ability to access: basic services; better paying and more rewarding jobs and further education and training. They are more likely to report poor health. They are less likely to get involved in the political process and volunteer activities within their communities.
Literacy skills as an adult are extremely important and research shows that there is still work to be done improving the literacy of today’s graduates. ABC Life Literacy Canada research shows that 74 per cent of young Canadians who graduate from high school have strong literacy skills. The remaining percentage can only handle simple reading and writing tasks.
Like any skill, literacy skills are something that can deteriorate over time if they aren’t used. At a time when when most entertainment comes from a screen, all Canadians need to make a concerted effort to keep their literacy skills sharp. Whether it’s a newspaper, book, magazine or online article, there are as many different things to read as there are Canadians.
Those who have trouble reading our writing can find themselves cut off from society at large and while “I Love to Read Month” may be over, there’s no reason we can’t mark the occasion a little longer.