January 28, 2009

Reading skills essential for well-rounded citizens

As published in The Erin Advocate

Is it not wonderful that children these days are text messaging their friends and using the Internet to learn about the world? Will this modern digital literacy mould new generations of responsible cyber-citizens? If it comes at the expense of traditional reading skills, the answer is probably no.

The ability to do web research may be useful, but perhaps it is too easy. When what you think you need is served up to you, less thinking is needed. Reading a good novel, allowing yourself to be guided and entertained by a skilled author, is more likely to expand the mind.

With a little web surfing, I found this quote from Sunil Iyengar, a researcher at the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts: “We can no longer take the presence of books in the home for granted. Reading on one’s own – not in a required sense, but doing it because you want to read – that skill has to be cultivated at an early age.”

The NEA found that regular readers are more likely to vote, join community organizations, support the arts and be employed. Family Literacy Day (January 27 annually) reminds us that developing a love of reading, writing, and math at home is crucial for our economy and culture.

The Erin library is running a Family Literacy Bingo game. Children can fill in squares on a bingo card by completing literacy activities such as: writing a letter to the editor, making up a joke, Googling their name, designing a birthday card, following a recipe or reading a book. Pick up a card at the library and return it by January 31 to win a small prize.

The ability to read well, and enjoy it, does not always come easily, despite the efforts of teachers and parents. About half of Canadian adults have literacy skills that are poor, or barely adequate for their jobs.

The Wellington County Learning Centre offers help to children and adults who want to improve their reading and other basic skills. It is free and confidential. Some of the teaching is done at their facility in Arthur, but a network of about 80 volunteer tutors does much of the work at local centres such as the library, or students’ homes.

Consider becoming a tutor. I did it many years ago (not for WCLC) and it was a great experience for both the student and me. The WCLC provides training, and needs people who can commit three hours per week. Get more information on becoming a student or tutor by calling – 1-888-368-7889, emailing – literacy@thewclc.ca or visiting their website – www.thewclc.ca. They also refer people to similar agencies in Guelph and Acton when needed.

The WCLC website has a newsletter section with very specific advice for tutors and parents. There are techniques to improve spelling, pronunciation, story writing, comprehension, vocabulary and reading aloud with expression, plus information on different learning styles.

Funding from the Guelph-Wellington United Way supports a program for children, and teens up to 18 who are still in school, providing one-to-one teaching to upgrade basic skills. This benefits up to 60 students per year.

Adult programs for literacy, numeracy, resume development, basic computer use and workplace communication are funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

“We have funding for 68 adult students, but we serviced 148 last year, so we’re feeling the crunch,” said Executive Director Elizabeth Debergh.

“The main reasons people join are for independence and helping their children learn to read, for further education and for employment needs.”

Relatively new is a college preparation program at the Centre, in partnership with Conestoga College, allowing people to earn prerequisite college admission credits they did not get in high school. There is also a General Education Development program that is recognized by colleges, apprenticeship programs and employers as equivalent to an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

For programs in Arthur, there is a transportation subsidy available. Publications on sale through the WCLC include a Skills Level Checklist, a Budget Workbook for money management and The Road Ahead, an easy to read driver’s handbook.