Douglas College pens open letter to Prime Minster Justin Trudeau on literacy

Coming across the national literacy statistics, Brenna Gray knew she had to do something.

David Denofreo photo

So, the Douglas College English instructor wrote a letter to the one person she thought would be able to change the tide on the dismal literacy rate in Canada – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In an open letter to the newly-elected Canadian leader posted on the blog Book Riot, Gray brings attention to the startling statistics on literacy in Canada. In particular, Gray points to the fact that about 48 percent of the adult population does not meet Level 3 literacy – defined as “being able to meet the demands of everyday life and perform work-related tasks.”

“The numbers are staggering. It’s appalling. But no one really talks about it,” Gray said. “There is such a stigma about being illiterate and those who are illiterate have such amazing coping skills so that people don’t realize they can’t read.”

Among the statistics she sifted through, Gray also found that 55 percent of Canadian adults are unable to understand the information their doctors tell them. Of that number, 88 percent are seniors. And overall, the lowest rates of literacy are found in impoverished communities – including First Nations and new Canadians.

She said she hopes the letter will capture the attention of the Trudeau government or, at the very least, spread awareness.

“We need to have a plan to deal with this crisis,” Gray said. “And we need to have a federal initiative – something that is concrete and real.”

She adds that a start could come from something as simple as putting more resources back into adult education – which faced cuts under the former Conservative government – and literacy planning.

“You can’t have a plan for increasing employment unless you address literacy,” she said.

Douglas College programs and initiatives that help those struggling with literacy and adult basic education, Gray notes, include I-Care and English Upgrading.

“This is about empowering people with knowledge,” she said.

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