LITERACY: A TOOL AGAINST POVERTY
In recognition of the marriage between poverty and low educational levels, in 1977 Douglas College passed a resolution which established basic literacy training as a free public service of the College.
With the establishment of our first tuition free classes, we soon discovered that the cost of delivering literacy instruction is enormous. Because adults come for instruction with such a diversity of skills and backgrounds, group-paced instruction, such as is found in the elementary schools, is virtually ineffective. Each adult requires intense individual attention at every step of the learning process. With class size held to 10 students, it appeared that delivery of instruction to some 75,000 adults reading below the grade five level was an impossible task given the budget constraints under which Adult Basic Education operates.
We looked at literacy programs in Canada and in other parts of the world, and discovered that many of the more successful programs had a common feature. They involved the community members in the instructional process. Volunteer tutors trained by a variety of methods met with the adult learner somewhere in the community and together they learned to improve their reading and writing skills. It was in 1976 that the College decided to adopt the volunteer tutoring approach to literacy training.
After two long years of proposal writing and program design, the College has received an experimental project grant to recruit, select, train and coordinate volunteer tutors. The College is to act as a resource centre for the tutors, and is to attempt to organize existing community resources in an all-out effort to battle illiteracy in the Douglas' College Region. The Project is called Individualized Community Adult Reading Education (ICARE) .
We don't anticipate a great deal of difficulty in finding and training suitable volunteers, but we are concerned about the tendency of the adult illiterate to hide his illiteracy. We are searching for ways to energize the illiterate adult in seeking and demanding instruction. Through paid television and radio advertising and by informing key community groups, we are attempting to contact the adult illiterate and to provide him or her with the encouragement and support that they require.
To this end, we are contacting agencies and community groups likely to come into contact with adults who would benefit from basic reading and writing instruction, and asking the workers in those agencies and community groups to keep their eyes open for the adult who won't fill out a form, because they "forgot their glasses", or for the adult who has to take something home to read it over, of for the adult whose "spelling problem is so bad that he or she refuses to write anything.
Basic reading and writing skills form a cornerstone for self-reliance, a necessary prerequisite for demanding social action and an indispensable tool in the struggle against poverty.