Literacy linked with economic status
By Brendan Howe
The problem of illiteracy affecting almost one quarter of Canadians has been attributed to socioeconomic background, a recent study has found.
Released two days after a similar Statistics Canada survey on literacy which studied the literacy skills of youth, a report was done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Author of the study and University of New Brunswick education professor Doug Willms said it covered a random sample of youth aged 16 to 25 and looked into the effects of socioeconomic background on literacy.
The survey found literacy skills depend highly on the education of a child's mother and the family income level, he said. Up until the age of five, the amount and variety of speech a child hears is extremely important for literacy development, Willms explained, adding family income levels do not affect the child as much until they begin their schooling.
"What distinguishes the people in this study is how well students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds do," he said.
Children from poorer backgrounds tend to be segregated because of where they live and the programs that are offered to them, Willms said, adding literacy levels are not based on hereditary factors, but on the environment the child grows up in.
Adults whose reading and writing skills are below the level needed to handle most day-to-day activities are deemed to be functionally illiterate and have trouble operating in this society, said Carmen Sprovieri, director of the London public library's community relations department.
"They can't read a newspaper, shop wisely or understand voting instructions. They're operating in a society which is highly literate and very print-oriented," she said.
Sprovieri said the library offers a variety of services for adults with literacy problems including an anonymous hot-line, an extensive collection of reading material written at low levels and being an information source on community programs around London.
Wilma deRond, principal of adult and continuing education for the London-Middlesex Catholic School Board, said they offer educational programs for anyone 16 of age and older, day and night. She said they currently have between 130 and 160 people enrolled in their programs where they teach all levels of literacy.
"You have to make people aware these programs exist and that they're never too old to learn. They shouldn't be embarrassed or ashamed about it," deRond said.
Donna Smith, a literacy tutor for the London Community School Association, said she and other volunteer tutors provide an important service because they teach the very basic levels of literacy in a private, one-to-one confidential setting. She added a person who seeks help for a problem with literacy has a lot of courage to admit their trouble.