Suppose that you were unable to read well enough to function in everyday life. For many people, especially in wealthy countries, the idea is almost unimaginable.
But people in Canada and around the world are unable to read at a level that allows them to function in a literate world. Helping to address that problem early in people’s lives is what Family Literacy Day is all about.
In Canada, years of mandatory education have not eliminated the problem of illiteracy. According to recent statistics from the LiteracyWORKS program in Winnipeg, about 48 % of Canadians have problems with low levels of literacy, reading at about Grade 8 or below. This affects their ability to find good jobs and to deal with a wide variety of tasks, from reading street signs to understanding complicated instructions.
Sabena Singh of LiteracyWORKS has seen the effects of low literacy among the adult population in Winnipeg, where both Canadian-born residents and immigrants come to classes every year. They might attend so they can attain an ability to read to their children or grandchildren or to complete more difficult tasks, or they might come just for the joy of learning.
As people in the program know, a limited ability to read can affect people’s ability to participate in society at many different levels. Learning new linguistic skills can help them integrate more fully into community life.
Literacy problems occur for many different reasons. Some people have left school early to help support the family, while others have halted their education for a myriad of reasons. They might have struggled for several years to get through school before dropping out as soon as they saw an opportunity to do so.
Unless they have people around them who can support them in continued learning, they might soon find themselves losing even the few skills that they have already gained.
Literacy starts in the home, according to Singh; if parents read to their children and encourage them to read on their own, it will become a natural and normal part of the children’s lives. The habits they form when they are young will persist as they grow up and try to take their place in society.
Even if the problem with low literacy levels start early in life, participation in Family Literacy Day can be a good place to start. The annual celebration began in 1999 through ABC Life Literacy as a reminder of the importance of reading, especially for parents and their children.
Many cities have special events or projects on that day in libraries and other institutions. The Winnipeg Public Library normally marks the day with an array of activities and with special fundraisers, such as a plan in which all money from fines paid on January 27th go to a literacy project in the city.
Literacy includes much more than just the ability to read words on a page; it also includes the ability to write or work with numbers, use computers, and perform a variety of other tasks. Programs like LiteracyWORKS help students in all of these areas.
Assisting people in attaining a level of literacy that allows them to cope with everyday life can also be a mechanism for social change, as it draws people into aspects of life that might otherwise be barred to them.
If you want to help change the world, why not teach someone to read? You never know what might happen next.