Focus on Statistics
Measuring what counts
This spring's release of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey reveals that too many Canadians — one in four — do not have the literacy foundation they need to keep pace with the ever increasing demands of today's information society.
Why does this matter? The ALL survey sheds light on the inter- connections between literacy, economic success, and other pressing social issues. The ALL survey also highlights the widening divide between those at the top of the skills chain and those at the bottom.
People with low literacy skills are not the "problem." They are workers, parents and community members, doing the best they can with the resources and opportunities available to them. We have a lot to learn from people who navigate the world without the literacy foundation others take for granted.
The problem is that in the decade since the first international survey, not enough has been done to address the issue. We are still without a national system or strategy for adult literacy and basic education. Furthermore we haven't addressed the root causes of low literacy and other forms of educational disadvantage, like poverty.
There is one major initiative based on the premise that what we count matters, especially when we seek to build a better nation. It's called The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).
According to the Honourable Roy Romanow, spokesperson for the CIW, the things we count and measure reflect our values as a society and determine what we see on the news, what we hear at the water cooler, and ultimately, what makes it onto the policy agendas of governments. He argues that our current focus on economic indicators such as our gross domestic product (GDP) or the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) can lead to skewed policy priorities.
"What's wrong is that when the single most influential national lens that we use to measure our progress and wellbeing as a country is confined to a narrow set of economic indicators, it sends inaccurate and even dangerous signals to policy makers."
In a speech delivered in May of 2005 to the United Way conference in Toronto, Romanow invites us to imagine what would happen instead if every time we heard about the GDP we also heard the results of another new and important index — a Canadian Index of Wellbeing. This index might:
The Atkinson Foundation is currently developing the CIW as a powerful new measuring stick to provide Canadians with clear, valid and regular accounting of the things that matter to them and to the genuine progress of Canada. For more information visit: www.atkinsonfoundation.ca/ciw
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