Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

literacy workers speak out

Here are some excerpts from the comments on Carol Goar's article entitled Parties can't read literacy warnings:

42 percent represents a lot of votes!

42 percent of the working population that lacks the reading, language and vocabulary skills to participate in the knowledge economy represents a lot of votes. Pull those voices together under the banner of adult rights to literacy opportunities and funded programs and that’s a strong voice. Governments and politicians listen to strong voices (think banks). How can we get 42 percent of the working population to put adult literacy funding and opportunities into the mouths of our politicians? There lies the key to democracy. ...

short sighted and mean
Cutting funding to an adult literacy program is short-sighted and mean, but hardly surprising for heartless Harper.

Rhetoric costs nothing...
Students, instructors and employers know that we need to take urgent steps to provide quality, stable literacy programming so that adults who want to learn who want to improve their lives can exercise their right to do so. As you note federal politicians pay lip service to literacy but are unwilling to pay much more. The cuts in 2006 were cleverly engineered and packaged by the outgoing government. A quick tour of the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills web site appears to show that this government is engaged in supporting literacy – but, literacy organizations know the “real” story. The funding process is narrowly-focused, convoluted, and opaque. Literacy organizations across the country are understaffed, under- funded and over-stretched. Applying for funding is so time-consuming and costly that many organizations cannot afford to do it. Essentially the process disqualifies many candidate organizations.

response to LTragg
I have worked in literacy for over 20 years and have met many wonderful people. I have never thought of a literacy learner as someone who as "sunk so far down the ladder as to be illiterate". Many, many people lack basic reading and writing skills through no fault of their own. For every learner, there is a story. Some people will freely admit that they messed up in school by not participating, skipping school, getting caught up in other behaviours, etc. But by far the majority have other stories that can include domestic violence, moving from town to town, learning disabilities, health issues and more. For those of you who don't believe that literacy is a real issue, I suggest you try volunteering in your local agency and put a human face on the issue of low literacy. Talk to people. Spend some time with them. Discover how struggling with skills that many of us take for granted can impact daily life.

Taking a position on literacy
Throughout the country, organizations are working in their communities to support adults who have difficulty using written language. For a political party not to have developed policy on literacy says to these organizations and the people they support that this work is not important. The Harper Government has ripped apart the small but crucial infrastucture that has connected and sustained organizations doing this this work. We need at least one of our political leaders to commit to rebuilding this infrastructure, in consultation with communities and literacy organizations throughout the country. Who will take up this challenge? Thank you to Carol Goar for issuing this challenge, and helping our leaders focus on this unsexy but essential issue.

We all benefit from putting literacy on the agenda

Many people experience literacy issues today and have in the past; it's the demands of the knowledge-based economy that brings the issues to the forefront because reading, writing, and other functional literacy skills such as filling out complicated documents and working with computers have become an integral part of our working activities. Canadian schools aren't doing badly; they are ranked high in the international PISA study assessing the reading, writing, math, and problem solving skills of 16 year-olds. When not put to work literacy skills can diminish greatly, we have to acknowledge that as a society, and help adults to remain or become contributing members to their work environment, family, and community again. Many of these adults have or had jobs, have or had paid taxes, and support their families. They have a right to better themselves. In the end, adult literacy learner or not, we will all benefit from a society, in which more people participate fully.

We Need This
After working for an adult literacy program in another province, I've definitely seen just how important such work is. For whatever reason, some of our children aren't learning as they should in school and they are graduated anyway, becoming adults that barely have the minimum to succeed. So yes, our schools should be doing better. But in the meantime, we have work to do on the community level to help both those born here and those who come here and have to learn English. So much of our strength as people comes from our ability to understand and be understood and literacy programs offer that education. And as Goar stated, our strength as families has so much to do with literacy. I hope our government reads this.

Public funding
Literacy will always need public sector to support to make sure that programs are accessible to the diverse group of people who seek learning opportunities – including, but not limited to, those who need upgrading for work. The federal government used to support a wide range of research, including research-in-practice, and professional development that moved us forward as a field and enriched our practice as individuals. We have seen no support for that type of groundbreaking work since the NLS was replaced by OLES. If we are to meet the challenges of providing accessible, relevant and innovative programming in the 21st century, we need both funding (provincial) for programming and support (federal) for research and professional development that is accessible, relevant and innovative.

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