To Canada and Canadians, literacy is essential to a competitive future. So why, when so many Canadians can’t read, do we have no national literacy policy?
There is a certain vocabulary common to politicians when they are discussing literacy issues. Claimants argue the need to “equip people,” to “provide people with the necessary tools” and to “enable” them. Yet, little is ever read into the further development of these well intentioned pledges, and the bridge from the ideal to the implementation is rarely realized.
Such language, it is clear, is designed to hint at a wider infrastructure of support wherein people can gain the skills, the education, and the opportunities they choose, to offer them a happier and healthier lifestyle. The political side, however, has always been forced to walk a tightrope of policy, continually wavering between the harms of the restrictive over-legislation on one side and the unsupportive absenteeism of libertarianism on the other. The pivotal questions, however, remain: how best are governments to assist in the self-actualization of their citizens without impeding the process with an over-bearing and restrictive approach?
Within the House of Commons, there is unequivocal acknowledgment among fellow Members of Parliament that without proper educational training, the future of many young Canadians is less than bright. There are fewer and fewer jobs available to those who do not possess the kind of skills now required in the workplace. The quandary many Canadians find themselves in is that they cannot access those jobs without the needed education, yet they cannot afford to obtain the skills that are needed.
In today’s modern, competitive world, the ability to read and write proficiently is the most fundamental requirement for education and career advancement. Economically, the reality of this importance is manifested in the approximately $10 billion that illiteracy costs this country annually, not to mention the ongoing daily struggles of those who have to contend with limited reading and writing skills.
To these difficulties, education is a clear and integral aspect of the solution; and it is education that is the foundation upon which the future of this country will be built. The need to implement a national strategy to confront reading and writing difficulties is desperate. It is this serious need that motivated my presentation of Bill C-401, an act to establish a national literacy policy. This Private Members’ Bill would coordinate long-term programs designed to assist all Canadians who need this kind of help in realizing their full potential, both in their academic and professional careers. The reality is simple: in creating the kinds of programs that will encourage and sustain our young people in their educational journey we will be ensuring that the workforce of the future will be able to meet the needs of our economy.
The current Canadian workforce is recognized worldwide as innovative, intelligent and hardworking. This reputation is well deserved, yet it is truly disheartening that upwards of 38 per cent of Canadians have difficulties reading and writing. It is disheartening not because of any intrinsic benefits in literacy itself, but for the powerful tool that literacy provides, and the enormity of opportunities that it offers. Today, more than ever, literacy is independence, literacy is choice, and literacy is fundamental to an informed public.
Similarly, it is also an unfortunate reality that there exists a serious lack of funding for literacy programs in Canada and an even more pressing need for a coordination of services. A national literacy program would help to ensure that educational initiatives are undertaken to assist all interested Canadians with literacy issues. The bedrock of any education is the ability to read and write effectively and lifetime learning requires a solid foundation.
It is important that this issue, the need for literacy programs and financial assistance for adults and students alike, particularly those with disabilities, be met with the kind of serious action it deserves. We must also ensure that real commitments to adequate funding for these literacy programs are made. Likewise, we must acknowledge the existence of new methods, changing techniques in education, and the need to continue to make policies that recognize the inseparable relation shared between technology and learning.
Ultimately, such programs are investments in the future of our citizens, the future of our country and, in reality, the future of our planet. There is a role for Canada in the world. When encouraging Canadians to strive to reach their maximum potential we, by implication, do the same for our country itself.