When three local educators formed a regional educational council last spring they had one priority — to address literacy gaps in the region.
“It’s a chronic problem,” said Dr. Ray Sanders, director of Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus. Sanders, along with School District 27 Mark Thiessen and Bruce Mack, president of the Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy formed the council.
“It is important that we work together to find solutions to the literacy and educational deficiencies in our area,” Sanders said.
To help meet that goal, the council held a meeting in October and invited staff from local organizations to share information about the services they offer.
“We invited them to make a presentation on who they serve, and talk about what needs are and aren’t being met,” Mack said. “It was enlightening to learn about the range of services that exist and the restraints.”
For example, Mack explained that organizational mandates can result in people being denied access to literacy programs.
Someone who works more than 20 hours a week may not be eligible for a literacy program.
“That’s tough because a parent could be working to try and support a family and not get the help they need,” Mack said.
Thiessen said in the past people didn’t necessarily have to be literate to find a job, but now students graduating from high school need those skills.
If those needs cannot be met at the local alternative school, TRU or employment centres, where do people go is the concern.
“Sometimes people take big risks and admit to their inabilities when it comes to literacy and if we cannot meet their needs, they may not come back again,” Thiessen said. “If we know what everyone’s doing then we know where we can refer people.”
Mack has been involved with literacy since the mid 90s and said there have been improvements in some areas, especially because people are more willing to come forward and ask for help.
“There have been key figures who have come out publicly about their difficulties and that really helps because other people with difficulties realize they are not alone.”
And early learning programs such as Aboriginal Headstart, Books for Babies, Strongstart and Success by Six are helping more children arrive in kindergarten better prepared.
In other areas some thing haven’t changed and it’s a real challenge.
The Cariboo-Chilcotin remains in the bottom quarter when it comes to literacy.
“Literacy is complex,” Mack said. “We have people who have the skills who don’t use them and we still have students in the school system who don’t pick up the skills they need.”