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One in four Island adults struggles with basic literacy

Experts are concerned about Vancouver Island’s plummeting literacy rates.

Ben Hyman, executive director of the Vancouver Island Regional Library, recently told the Nanaimo regional district board literacy is in decline Island-wide.

“Literacy levels in the region are dropping like a stone over the last 20 or so years,” he said. “A quarter of adults are struggling with functional literacy on a daily basis. Literacy [is] a really key social determinant of health, if not the top social determinant of health. We either need to address it up front, or we’re all paying for it in a whole variety of ways, subsequently.”

Sandra Lee, executive director of Decoda Literacy Solutions, a non-profit which leads literacy programs around the province, says literacy skills help people live better lives.

“People make better choices and decisions in terms of health, mental health, if they have good literacy skills,” she said. “We know that low literacy is a huge factor in poverty.”

Lee said small resource-dependent communities that have lost industries suffer the most, as poverty spreads quickly along with declining literacy, leaving communities unable to get out of bad situations.

She said literacy programs can change lives. She gave examples of how they have helped people work through a commercial driving handbook or red seal mechanic manual to upgrade careers, and helped people understand government documents to apply for services and benefits.

She pointed out libraries on the Island are an important part of literacy, because they provide spaces in communities large and small. All literacy experts need to work is space, a table and chairs, a few teaching tools, and time, she said.

Literacy week in BC runs until Sunday, Vancouver Island Regional Libraries are holding events all around the Island this weekend. Visit their website to find activities near you.

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