FILL THE GAP IN LITERACY
If you are reading this editorial, it is unlikely you are wrestling with literacy issues. We hope, however, that Bre Mcadam’s story about Ernie Schmidt, a Saskatchewan farmer and businessman who learned to write at age 64, raises awareness that not everyone has the skills they need.Ernie was riding in his tractor when he heard an ad about tutoring services. He reached out for help from READ Saskatoon, and started learning with the help of a volunteer.He wrote this in a letter to the organization: “A few months ago, I, Ernest could not write, I could not spell; I even had trouble thinking about writing or spelling. I was unhappy with myself. But deep down inside of me, I so desperately wanted to write.”Fortunately, he found the support he needed to fulfil this sincere, long-held wish.Ernie is far from alone in his struggle. According to figures from READ Saskatoon, a third of Saskatchewan adults struggle with literacy. They find ways to work around this disadvantage, and this resourcefulness is reflected in the statistic that 65 per cent of people with literacy issues are employed.Canada-wide, 48 per cent of Canadian adults lack the basic literacy skills to cope with everyday life and work.We need to blow up any shame attached to low literacy. The bravery and resilience of people who make their way in the world with gaps in their knowledge should be acknowledged. Ernie ran successful business enterprises and has raised a beautiful family without being able to write. This is inspiring.Poor literacy skills are predictors of poor health and other life struggles. Not having literacy and numeracy skills makes a person more than twice as likely to be unemployed. Jobs that do not require literacy are generally less stable than those with higher skill requirements.And if you can’t read and write easily, choices instantly become more limited for housing, jobs and education.A lack of choices can lead to desperation and criminal behaviour. Government research shows that offenders have triple the number of literacy problems than the general public.There is no question; better literacy skills mean a better life. The statistics may be daunting, but it is important to respond to the need by ensuring government funding and strategy are in place to meet the need.As Ernie’s story shows, learning to read and write better can open up meaningful doors. The fact he learned to write down his life story is a gift to his family — and because he was willing to share his story, a gift to the rest of the community.
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