As someone who makes a living reading and writing, I pay close attention to how many people can actually read what I’m writing. In Canada, we’re proud of the accessibility we provide to education but our literacy rates tell another story.
According to a 2005 StatsCan report, four in 10 Canadian adults don’t have the minimum literacy skills needed for coping with everyday life and work. Those 40 per cent rate below a literacy level of three, which is considered by many countries to be the minimum skill level for successful participation in society.
A common explanation for the low literacy rates is the inclusion of new Canadians in the survey. It makes sense that if you include the literacy rates of people for whom English is a second language, the numbers are bound to drop.
But if you remove new Canadians from the stats, the average remains the same.
I volunteer as a literacy tutor at the Toronto Public Library, and I was shocked when I first learned these numbers. We have certain stereotypes about what an illiterate person is supposed to look like, but most of the people I work with are bright individuals who are fluent English speakers. They have difficulty with most reading material they encounter in everyday life, but have done an exceptional job masking it.
Even more surprising than Canadian literacy rates is that universities aren’t immune to these hidden literacy problems. A new report released by the Canadian Council on Learning reveals that 20 per cent of university graduates score below a literacy level of three, meaning they struggle to understand basic text.
Some universities, such as the University of Waterloo, require its students write an English language proficiency exam. Ryerson has nothing of the kind. How many of our grads secretly lack the basic literacy skills needed to succeed in society?
News editor Aleysha Haniff takes a closer look on page 5.
On a personal note, this is the last issue of the year and my last issue as editor-in-chief. It’s been a great year, and I thank the readers, the masthead and the staff for putting up with me.