Literacy is a foundational skill required for most education and employment, but it also affects the way people interact with each other and their culture, as well as take care of themselves.
“It comes down to every aspect of people’s lives,” said Katie Randall, youth literacy coordinator with the NWT Literacy Council. “There is health literacy, to understand how to take medicine properly. Obviously in the workplace people need to be able to read documents. And even with cooking. It’s involved on every level.”
That’s why it may be alarming to note that four out of 10 adults in the Northwest Territories have a literacy level below what experts believe is required to get a job in today’s knowledge-based world.
The 2005 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) indicated that approximately 42.6 per cent of the adult population in the territory faces barriers to employment and education. That translates to about 11,000 people.
Literacy no longer simply refers to reading and writing. For the NWT Literacy Council, the definition of literacy includes all the essential skills people need for participating in society, including the traditional literacy of Aboriginal cultures.
Illiteracy in the NWT primarily affects Aboriginal people. An unsettling 69 per cent of the Aboriginal population in the NWT scored below satisfactory levels, while 70 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population scored above.
“One of the things we are doing is trying to get many more Aboriginal languages here, to have our resources translated into all nine official Aboriginal languages,” said Randall, as well as getting books from Northern authors with culturally appropriate content.
And while the majority of NWT youth are at an acceptable level of literacy, the percentage of young people at lower levels of literacy is considerably higher than the national average.
The burden of illiteracy on the economy is significant. According to IALSS data, 73 per cent of unemployed people in the NWT performed below the literacy level needed to get by in daily life, in terms of reading texts like newspapers, manuals, job application forms, and maps, as well as basic numeracy skills, like balancing accounts or working out interest on a loan.
Even 38 per cent of the employed population have literacy levels below the required level for full participation in their workplaces.
Randall said the council is looking at ways of engaging youth through digital literacy, incorporating social media like Twitter and Facebook. The council is also working on a program to encourage people to “Read for 15,” along with other challenges and events they organize throughout the year, such as the Peter Gzowski golf tournament for literacy.
What the Thebacha MLA candidates had to say about literacy:
It leads to education and the ability for people to fully appreciate and interact with the world, to move on to get education and jobs and positions like my own. Literacy is the fundamental building block for this.
The public library system is a critical institution, and the schools too of course. But most good things start at home. We need to be pushing parents to read to their kids, to help them with learning their ABCs, learning to count, the whole thing.
Schools and libraries do enormous things with their reading weeks and challenges, like the Peter Gzowski golf tournament for literacy, these are all good programs. Of course, these are all things we can do better, but if we focus on the fundamentals, starting at home, we can do this.
Literacy is a very important tool for each and every member of our community. As MLA, I will continue to support the Headstart Program for the pre-school children, the pre-school program for the community at large, Our Babies, Our Future program, as well as continued support for the Phoenix program.
I also support all adults in their journey to full literacy and above all ensure our two schools have proper funding for all special needs students.
My love for the people of this community to advance to higher levels of literacy is of utmost importance to me.
It’s one of the basic forms of anyone being able to communicate. I know a lot of illiterate people and it has an effect on a person’s self-esteem. Being literate gives them confidence and lets them feel independent.
It’s a fundamental coping skill. It’s a basic life skill that needs to be promoted and supported. When I say that we need more funding for education, these are the types of things that need to be addressed.
There is an area of education that I believe strongly is being left behind. You can only do so much with the same budget year after year. We need more funding directed towards them.