TV ONTARIO PILOT ADULT LITERACY PROJECT
TV Ontario has been telecasting a new series of six dramas -Six Stories on Thursday evenings at 8.00 p.m. since November 2, 1978. In conjunction with the November 23 broadcast, "That's My Name-Don't Wear It Out:", TV Ontario prepared a special set of materials for home viewers, English teachers in academic and vocational schools (grades 7-10), and those involved in improving adult literacy. The set of material~ included: Program Script, Student's Resource Booklet, Photo-story, and an Adult Literacy Package. Thunder Bay and London, Ontario were chosen as pilot sites to assess the impact on adult literacy programs. Many Ontario members of The Movement were involved in this project. Also, a chapter of The Movement for Canadian Literacy is being formed in Thunder Bay with the first meeting scheduled for Monday, November 27 at Confederation College.
At the 12th Annual Conference for Ontario Teachers of English as a Second Language held in Toronto, November 2-4,. a new dimension was introduced by the inclusion of a one-day Literacy and ESL Symposium. The purpose was to offer theoretical and practical perspectives on the teaching of literacy to adult immigrants.
The first speaker, Jack Pearpoint, President of Frontier College, emphasized the fultility of engaging in semantic debates about degrees of illiteracy. If 5 million Canadians cannot function in modern society because they are educationally disadvantaged, THE PROBLEM IS THERE, "and it is time that society takes a serious look at its institutional response." He pointed out that billions of dollars are spent that do not reach the problem, and named Community Colleges as "a creative design that responded to one inch below university level and left the whole underlying population unhelped." Jack confronted the common myths about illiteracy: 1. It's an immigrant problem. ("70% of people with a literacy problem were born here.") 2. It's a problem of older people whose education was interrupted by the depression or war. ("Many are 17 year old coming out of High Schools today.") 3. It's a perceptual problem. ("This accounts for a very small percentage of Canada's literacy difficulties.") He urged the participants in the conference to promote a massive personal approach to make an immediate contact between the person with a reading problem and a teacher. Commitment and a caring attitude on our part will be the key to progress.
Henry Arthur Jones, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester and co-author of ADULT LITERACY: A Study of Its Impact, a follow-up of the experience of the BBC program, "On the Move" outlined the main features of the campaign against illiteracy in Britain. First, "a brilliant political campaign" was introduced in 1973. A well- publicized exhibition demonstrated a range of case studies through photos, tapes, audio-visual aids etc. and personalized the problem of people grappling with illiteracy and the strategies they resorted to for survival. Included in the show was an analysis of "helpful government leaflets" such as the Highway Code and a statement of Immigrants' Rights which were at a high readability level. This highlighted the frustration felt by a sub-literate person trying to avail himself of these aids. Secondly, the public interest and sympathy was caught by the "dauntingly enormous" figure --2 million British subjects inadequately trained in reading and writing. "On the Move" then was launched -- a lively, entertaining prime time show with professional actors and good, engaging music. The TV program was tremendously successful as a means of bringing people forward to seek help. The first series of television programs did not teach reading skills. Instead, the program's biggest contribution, said Professor Jones, was that it made literacy a respectable subject of conversation.
Jones' talk concluded with a realistic, yet humanistic note. "If you want adults to make progress, you are in for a long time. Progress should be measured in years rather than in weeks. Success with illiterates is measured in terms of self-concept, "the student's awareness of himself as a considerable person," and success in reading will follow. .
Donna McGee, Vancouver Community College, spoke of a definition of functional illiteracy. She traced the pre-literate stages, ranging from inability to hold a pencil to inability to meet day to day demands due to poor reading and writing skills. She noted the common fear of all educationally disadvantaged persons - that their reading and writing is an indication of their worth. If that is so, then certain pre-requisites for learning must be met, such as a warm and supportive environment, oral proficiency first and the need of ESL students to be read to and to see their own words in print. Donna affirmed that people can learn at any age, though it may take longer for older people. Teachers must utilize the student's own skills, such as memory, and shape the classes according to the needs of the learner.
The selection of literacy materials was discussed by Sidney Pratt and Naldi Nomez of the Literacy Working Group. Literacy is not just reading, according to the speakers, but a process of decoding social reality, an acquired ability to recognize problems, to analyze and eventually act on one's environment. The right to read is a deep fundamental human right that the Ministries of Education should be responding to in the case of adults. Classes should be free, or cheap, accessible, related to one's experience, lifelong and help the learner to gain power to influence his community.