New data on lit­er­acy not promis­ing

The Compass - - OPINION - Caro­line Vaughan Caro­line Vaughan is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor with Lit­er­acy New­found­land and Labrador. She writes from St. John’s, and can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: cvaughan@lit­er­a­cynl.com

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.

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