New data on literacy not promising
A decade after the last international literacy survey was published, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released a new study of adult skill levels in developed countries. Literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology rich environments are the three domains assessed in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). How did we fare? Data for Newfoundland and Labrador confirms that the literacy challenge remains, and that one person in five — among adults between the ages of 16 and 65 — still finds it difficult or very difficult to understand and use written text.
This proportion of people with low literacy skills remains the same as in the 2003 survey. Our scoring on numeracy is significantly worse: one person in three find it difficult or very difficult to use mathematics. And, when asked about their access to information and communications technology, our responses scored us next to last among Canada’s provinces and territories.
What are the implications for individuals?
Social aspects of the report deserve consideration; the study reiterates that low literacy is a root cause for social exclusion, identifying that a person’s access to employment, economic situation, and even health, are directly related to his or her level of literacy skill. People with low literacy skills are at risk of living in poverty and being excluded from the labour market. As a result, a significant number of our fellow citizens in NL find themselves in very vulnerable situations.
What are the implications for community and for governments?
For several years now, the province’s literacy community has emphasized to government the need to prioritize the improvement of literacy and numeracy skills. It’s time to get to work on this. The OECD survey clearly demonstrates that low literacy skills are putting a significant percentage of the population at risk for social and economic exclusion.
In the fall of 2013, representatives from local community organizations, from adult education and training, and concerned citizens gathered to participate with Literacy NL in a regional forum series on literacy and essential skills. Consensus emerging among each of four forums confirmed the need for a strategic action plan to improve literacy skills.
Ten years have passed since the last literacy survey, and the proportion of people with low literacy skills remains unchanged. Over the course of the same decade, literacy communities have had to struggle with either budget reductions or funding stagnation. It is very clear that we must invest resources equal to the challenge as well as adopt a long-term structural vision.
This situation urgently calls for a major effort. We now have an up-to-date portrait of the multiple challenges in relation to literacy and low literacy skills, and the community is mobilized to act. It is therefore appropriate that all levels of government make this a priority, so that the results of the next decade are more positive than those of the last decade.
Literacy Newfoundland and Labrador is appealing to political authorities and civil society stakeholders for deliberate mobilization on this issue. For a significant percentage of the adult population, facing this challenge is a matter of respecting their rights and working to ensure their full participation in the political, economic and social life of Newfoundland and Labrador.