Today’s blog tour topic – What can and should writers do to support literacy? – was my question, but then I tried to write an answer. I quickly realized I needed to back up a couple of steps and answer a different question: Why should writers (and anyone else reading this) care about literacy? (Beyond the obviously self-serving – people need to be able to read before they will shell out money for reading material!)

Shut your eyes, just for a minute, and imagine: All books, and other reading material you enjoy and rely on, are all about to be taken away. Forever.

Can you imagine it? It sounds like the beginning of a bad horror novel.

Now, consider this: I live in a highly developed, first world county. My home province, British Columbia, ‘boasts’ one of the highest literacy rates in Canada. Therefore, it was a shock to learn the literacy skills of forty percent of the population, aged 16 and over, are at a level 2 or below. ( Prose literacy map of Canada:

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the five levels of literacy:

Level 1Very poor literacy skills.

Level 2A capacity to deal only with simple, clear material involving uncomplicated tasks.

Level 3Adequate to cope with the demands of everyday life and work in an advanced society.

Levels 4 and 5Strong skills. An individual at these levels can process information of a complex and demanding nature. (Generally, reading for pleasure requires strong literacy skills.)

Think about the complexities of modern life and the number of times, everyday, you read and write for information, for communication and for pleasure. Imagine being unable to clearly articulate on screen or paper, or struggling to comprehend even the simplest written material.

Low literacy not only excludes individuals from fully participating in modern society, there are also disturbing correlations between low literacy & incarceration, low literacy & low income levels, and low literacy & poor health.

In British Columbia, four out of ten adults are either illiterate or functionally illiterate. It’s a shocking statistic, and it should be a call to action for every citizen – unfortunately, the literacy crisis barely registers a blip on the public consciousness.

If we don’t act, the situation will get worse: Forty-six percent of Canadians aged 16 and up are estimated to fall below international literacy standards for coping in a modern society. By 2031, it is estimated this figure will climb to forty-seven percent. Source: Canadian Council on Learning 2008

Many individuals and groups are trying to improve literacy. On the surface, it seems to be a cause we can all support. But, sadly, the politics swirling around this issue prompt too many, otherwise well-meaning, adults to hurl insults at each other while they play political and blame games, instead of focusing on solutions.

Writers and their readers are gifted, by genetics and circumstance, with strong literacy skills.

Literacy is a noble cause for all authors and their readers to support. Perhaps writers and readers can, together, sidestep the politics and make a difference.

I’d love to read your thoughts on this topic. Are you involved in any literacy projects? Please share details and links.



Note: Kindly take a moment to read Ryder Islington’s post on this topic and return to Ryder’s blog for the start of Wednesday’s tour topic “Favourite websites for writers”.