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Literacy skills are essential

Literacy matters to individuals and to the economy.

More than half a million British Columbians face significant challenges because of limited literacy skills, whether it’s an inability to read the newspaper, or a lack of understanding of important financial or health documents.

Literacy skills are vital to all British Columbians because they are a necessary part of everyday life and impact everything from healthcare to employment and economic status.

Literacy is no longer just the ability to read or write, but encompasses a much wider scope of daily activities —  including using technology, doing calculations, communicating verbally and in writing, and problem-solving.

This month, Black Press, Kootenay Savings Credit Union and the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy are joining forces to raise funds and awareness about the importance of literacy with the fifth annual Reach a Reader campaign.

The campaign will culminate with community leaders and volunteers hitting the streets across the Columbia Basin and Boundary to distribute special editions of local papers and collect donations in support of community-based literacy programs.

The Reach a Reader campaign coincides with Decoda Literacy Solutions’ Literacy is Life Campaign; a province-wide fundraising and awareness campaign designed to put a human face on literacy and shed light on how low literacy affects children and adults, Aboriginal and immigrant communities, those in the workforce, and the economy as a whole.

“Literacy skills are essential for a vibrant BC economy, so addressing limited levels benefits everyone,” says Columbia Basin Alliance for Literarcy executive director Ali Wassing.

“We would encourage anyone who is affected by literacy issues to tap into the many resources and literacy programs available in their community.”

The Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy is a not-for-profit organization that develops, promotes and delivers literacy and essential skills services for people of all ages in the Columbia Basin and Boundary regions of British Columbia.

Its 16 community literacy coordinators provide services in 77 communities, working with local literacy advisory committees to develop effective literacy programs and resources in the communities they serve.

To find out more about literacy in Nelson, Kaslo, Salmo or the Slocan Valley, visit cbal.org.

Decoda Literacy Solutions is the only province-wide literacy organization in BC. As a non-profit organization, Decoda provides resources, training and funds to support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across the province.

Decoda’s work supports children and families, adult learners, and aboriginal and immigrant communities in an effort to build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

The importance of literacy: Talking points

Literacy matters for the economy

• A one per cent increase in literacy levels would raise Canada’s productivity by 2.5 per cent, or an estimated $32 billion boost to our annual GDP.

Literacy matters for health

• Thirty per cent of those with high literacy say they have excellent health, compared to 19 per cent of those with low literacy.

• Researchers estimate that three to five per cent of total health care costs are due to limited understanding about health information. This translates into $680 million each year in BC.

Literacy matters for seniors

• Literacy skills may decline with age due to health problems and lack of use. Over 70 per cent of seniors have low literacy.

• Seniors with low literacy may have problems filling out pension forms or understanding medical information.

Literacy matters for immigration

• By 2030, immigration is expected to provide 100 per cent of new labour force growth.

• Sixty per cent of immigrants with a first language other than English have literacy levels below a high school graduate.

• Over one quarter of BC’s population was born outside of Canada.

Literacy matters for aboriginal people

• Aboriginal students make up 10 per cent or more of the school population in many school districts.

• School completion rates for aboriginal people remain below 50 per cent, compared with 79 per cent for the general student population.

Literacy matters for families

• Reading to children before they start school helps develop their language skills and their interest in reading and learning in general.

• The children of parents with higher education levels have higher literacy levels, and much of the benefit comes with high school graduation.

Literacy matters for children and youth

• In BC, one in four children is “developmentally vulnerable” when beginning kindergarten and one student in five is not completing high school in the expected time.

• Almost four in 10 youths aged 15 have insufficient reading skills.

• In 2008, 20 per cent of Canadian teenagers aged 15 to 19 were no longer pursuing a formal education.

• The Canadian government will spend more than $2,500 on employment insurance and $4,000 on social assistance annually for each high school dropout, for a total annual cost of 2.4 billion dollars.

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