Literacy Programs Need Long-Term Funding

By Silver, Jim | Winnipeg Free Press, October 12, 2014 | Go to article overview

Literacy Programs Need Long-Term Funding


Silver, Jim, Winnipeg Free Press


A wealth of evidence -- both global and local -- confirms the value of literacy and the importance of programs that promote literacy. This is especially the case for low-income individuals and communities, for whom gains in literacy can be transformative.

Manitoba has embraced this truth by laying the groundwork for real gains in literacy, in the form of Canada's first Adult Literacy Act and an Adult Literacy Strategy. Manitoba has also made important investments in public housing, including investments in adult learning centres and adult literacy programming, located on-site in some public housing complexes.

The on-site character is important: Location matters. There is good evidence the on-site delivery of adult education and literacy programs in public housing complexes is producing significant benefits for individuals and these low-income communities. This is particularly evident in Lord Selkirk Park and Gilbert Park, Winnipeg's two largest public housing complexes, where real gains have been made in recent years because of community engagement and provincial government investment -- including investment in grassroots, on-site educational initiatives.

Promotion of adult literacy is also important, because adult literacy is family literacy: When parents are engaged in improving their education, including literacy, their children benefit. Parents are able to help children with homework and read to them before bed, activities important for child development and parent-child attachment.

Additionally, when adults are engaged in education there is a "spinoff" effect: They bring their cousins or brothers or neighbours to join them in the literacy program. The benefits that flow from good literacy programming are many, and they spread rapidly in communities where literacy programming is established.

All the more puzzling, then, is the case of the Westgrove Literacy Program, located in Westgrove Housing in suburban Winnipeg. Westgrove Literacy is a grassroots, community-based literacy program operated by Family Dynamics. This type of literacy programming serves the crucial function of being the first rung on the literacy and education ladder for many of the members of this low-income community. It is the starting point for changes that can benefit individuals, their families and the broader community.

Yet, provincial funding for the Westgrove Literacy Program was eliminated in June 2013. The decision appears to be inconsistent, not only with the global and local evidence of the many benefits of literacy programming, but also with Manitoba's recent initiatives promoting adult literacy, and with the very positive on-site developments promoted by Manitoba Housing in public housing complexes such as Lord Selkirk Park and Gilbert Park.

The decision to cut this funding seems especially problematic given approximately 285,000 Manitobans have literacy levels below what is deemed necessary for full participation in Canadian society. …

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