Literacy Matters

By Diana Ospina, Senior Manager, MOSAIC Language Programs


4 things you can do to Observe International Literacy Day

September means back to school for many of us.  As we prepare our children and ourselves (way to go life long learners!!) to learn the skills that hold so much promise for the future we might want to spare a moment to think about why it all matters and what it would be like if we didn’t have these opportunities.  You won’t be alone: September 8 is UNESCO International Literacy Day when international, national, academic and community organizations reflect on what has been accomplished and prepare to meet the ongoing challenge of eradicating illiteracy around the world.

The numbers

So much has been accomplished, in the last 60 years world literacy rates have gone from 42% to 86%.  This is great but today, 750 million adults around the world can’t read or write and of further concern, 500 million of them are women.  Add to this the millions of people around the world with low levels of literacy which significantly impact their lives and the numbers are staggering.  In case you think literacy challenges only apply to the far off corners of the world- in BC nearly 16 % of residents scored at or below literacy level one.  This means that our neighbours could be struggling to understand dosage information on medicine bottles, fill out forms or help their children with homework.

Why does it matter?

Literacy matters for what it represents.  Kofi Annan expressed it perfectly by saying that “literacy is a bridge from misery to hope”.  It represents the route to reducing poverty and for people to live with dignity in their societies.  Illiteracy, both personally and nationally, dooms people to lives of poverty.  And reading and writing aren’t enough to fully participate in growing economies, it is just the first step in gaining education in technical, vocational and digital skills.  The political and social stability enjoyed by the peoples of developed countries are the same rights denied to those in developing countries.  The human potential that is lost when whole generations forgo education and the joys of literacy is unimaginable.

So what can you do observe International Literacy Day?

  1. Your vote counts!

    Support municipal, provincial and national parties which value full and equal rights to education. Find out who is bringing forward strong education legislation and putting the political clout behind international initiatives to end illiteracy and improve education.

  2. Volunteer in a LINC program and help newcomers learn more about their new community and in turn learn about other cultures.

As an educator who has been in the ESL field for 18 years I was thrilled to see that the theme for this years’ International Literacy Day is Multilingualism.  In our LINC Program (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) we work with people who often speak two or more languages and its is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the richness of cultures and ways of being that language represents.  We also see the frustrations that arise from speaking little to no English and how that can make people feel functionally illiterate.  It is astonishing to see the dedication and perseverance with which our students work to improve their English.  I have been approached by many volunteers who share the stories of their students.  I can see the joy and pride they feel to be a part of newcomers becoming more engaged and confident in Canada.  Those little victories such as understanding notices from their child’s school or filling out shift reports with confidence- add up to full and engaged lives in their new homes.

  1. Participate in BC Literacy Month

Community Literacy Initiatives do great things and DECODA supports them by raising awareness of the importance of literacy, and raising funds to support community-based literacy programs and initiatives across British Columbia.  They do good stuff so help them out.

  1. Give a child a book

The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school (National Commission on Reading, 1985).  So if you have any children in your life- give them age appropriate books and read aloud to them (bonus points if you read in multiple languages).


MOSAIC offers a variety of language services including English classes, IELTS testing, as well as interpretation and translation services. To learn more, please visit mosaicbc.org/language.