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Alone at a literacy presentation, literally

The Newfoundland and Labrador Laubach Literacy Council held a presentation on creating a community-based literacy program April 20, with a zero attendance rate.

This is the second time I showed up at a literacy event in Port aux Basques and waited until realizing nobody else will show up.

I thought it was the lack of advertising that failed to draw attendees but the presenter, Kaitlyn Coombs, said she travels around the province and she usually expects to see three attendees at most. Her job is to set up a volunteer-based literacy programs around the province to help adults to reach functional literacy levels and, if needed, complete their high school diploma.  

Coombs showed me the presentation she had prepared: More than 50 per cent of people in Newfoundland and Labrador are below the functional literacy proficiency levels and there hasn’t been any significant change since 1994.

One reason the province has such low literacy level is because Newfoundland is a province built around the fishing industry, she said. And because children were expected to start working at a young age, like all the other hardworking people of Newfoundland, there were no emphasis on formal education.

Unfortunately, times have changed. Fishing is not thriving at the moment and 45 per cent of Canadian jobs created in this decade require at least 16 years of education. According ABC Life Literacy Canada, adults with low literacy levels are twice as likely to be unemployed.

In a way, the upsetting part is that I’ve met people without formal education that are just as smart as university graduates. A few years back, I met an older gentleman that was a high school drop out. He was smart, analytical and well-spoken. One could argue that getting educated at his age would have no impact. On the other hand, had he had his diploma, he could have had higher income with more financial security. Maybe he had missed out on a great career opportunity because he also had great people skills.

I had actually brought up the issue of illiteracy a few times in Port aux Basques. I’ve heard various responses: those with low literacy levels are too embarrassed to learn, that’s just the way it is in this province, and I shouldn’t judge because I’m not good at everything.

In a way, I understand. I’m sure it can be embarrassing. Kids had to work because there were mouths to feed. I’m terrible at many things, including cooking, but I don’t agree that it’s OK to forfeit one’s rights, such as not being able to comprehend a form one needs to sign, for example.

Not everyone can be a literary genius, just as not everyone has the ability to become a pro athlete. But basic literacy is not a privilege; we’re all entitled to it.

Nobody is too old to start learning a new skill. I’m hoping to see a few friendly faces next time I go to another meeting on literacy awareness.

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