Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Interview with John O'Leary - FC President & other news

Hi everyone,

Thought you might be interested to know that Frontier College's president - John O'Leary - was interviewed on CTV yesterday. As a point of note, he makes reference to a story posted here last week about a recent study which said that reading to your children at bed-time does not help improve their literacy (he disagrees with that study). The transcript is below. Also below is an article in Saturday's Kitchener-Waterloo Record - starts local, but goes on to give a good overview of the links between illiteracy and poverty and the challenges those with poor literacy and numeracy skills face in trying to find employment.

DATE: 2005.11.07
TIME: 08:39:00 ET
END: 08:43:30 ET

"Giller Light": a night to celebrate literacy

O'REGAN: The issue of literacy in Canada came to the forefront last week when Canadian hockey icon Jacques Demers announced that he has been illiterate all of his life. And he told us that here on Canada AM. Even more shocking, it is estimated that 42 percent of Canadians between the age of 16 and 65 have difficulty reading and writing, while 15 percent can't read or write at all.

Joining us now with more on this very troubling issue is the president of Frontier College, John O'Leary.

John, good to have you here.

O'LEARY: Good morning.

O'REGAN: It was shocking for many people in the country to have Jacques come out and say that. He was on our show. And it was quite emotional, actually, for everybody who was watching, for us here and for him. Do you think that resonated at all? Do you think this was --

O'LEARY: Absolutely. It's going to have -- or is having -- a very positive impact. We've certainly received calls from people who read the story and have decided they want to do something about it themselves. And he deserves tremendous credit for speaking out in this way. I hope he'll continue to do so.

O'REGAN: But these numbers are shocking. Shocking.

O'LEARY: They are. But we've known these numbers for over ten years, since 1990, when the OECD and Stats Canada did a study about literacy. We discovered that there are five levels of literacy. The bottom two levels where people have the most need, about 15-20 percent are in level one and another 22 percent on level two, which is over 40 percent of adult Canadians have some needs with literacy. O'REGAN: How do we stack up against other countries? We've got one of the highest standards of living in the world. And yet we have this problem with illiteracy. I don't understand. Square that circle for me.

O'LEARY: Modern literacy studies, as I say, began in the late '80s, early '90s. All the Western countries -- Western European countries and North America -- are very similar: about 40 percent of citizens in all the countries need some help with reading and writing. The one exception is the Scandinavian countries who scored very, very high -- right at the top -- for some reason. Culturally, I think.

O'REGAN: I know we've got a board there with some of the reasons for illiteracy in this country. Maybe we can show that and we can talk to them. Poverty, domestic violence, poor health are three big ones. O'LEARY: Big ones.

O'REGAN: Interesting, because Jacques talked about domestic violence in his childhood.

O'LEARY: Yes, absolutely. The people we work with -- and Frontier College has been around since 1899 -- overwhelmingly come from backgrounds, some kind of troubled background -- poverty, isolation. Health is a factor. Not everyone can learn while sitting at a desk in a classroom. Different learning styles is a factor. And also there's unfortunately some bogus educational theories going on out there. And that has an impact, too.

O'REGAN: What do you mean by that?

O'LEARY: Well, last week there was a front-page story in the news about reading to your children does not necessarily help them -- which in my view is complete nonsense.

So we just need to focus on -- the good news is we do know how to teach people who don't read well. And we need to do that on a much more significant scale than we're doing right now.

O'REGAN: It's interesting you bring that up with children. As you say, this study, talking about reading to your kids may not help them read.

O'LEARY: That's nonsense.

O'REGAN: Certainly not the case for me, I know that.

O'LEARY: Yeah, exactly.

O'REGAN: Speaking anecdotally. What do we do?

O'LEARY: As a country?

O'REGAN: Yeah, as a country. Especially with kids these days with computers and video games --

O'LEARY: Yeah, the electronic culture --

O'REGAN: -- and 500 channels.

O'LEARY: Five hundred channels, having a factor, what I call "The Simpsons", it's cool to be dumb, that's having a factor.

O'REGAN: Ah, interesting.

O'LEARY: So, there's a group of educators actually meeting this week and next week with federal government officials. We're working on a national literacy action plan. And we're encouraging the federal government to show leadership and tackle this issue, launching a ten-year campaign to teach one million people over the next decade or so. It's doable and we can do it.

O'REGAN: There you go. And we're just showing it there now. Tomorrow night's the Giller Prize.


O'REGAN: You're hosting the Giller Lights.

O'LEARY: The Giller Lights.

O'REGAN: A fine tradition.

O'LEARY: A fine tradition. The founder of the Giller Prize, Jack Rabinovitch, actually taught with Frontier College when he was a student at U of T. So a few years ago a group of people in the publishing industry, the people who do the real work but don't get invited to the Giller, decided to have a fundraiser for Frontier College. Several of them were tutoring with us. And so, it's the Giller Light. This is the fourth year. We expect a crowd of over 500 people. There are still some tickets available --

O'REGAN: Oh, tickets available, okay.

O'LEARY: Talk TV will be there. And it's going to be a great night, celebrating literacy. And we're going to encourage people who are there to join us in tackling and getting involved in this issue.

O'REGAN: CTV will definitely be there. Absolutely, absolutely. And the great news is that you guys don't have to rent tuxes.

O'LEARY: No, we don't have to rent tuxes. We're much better dressed. O'REGAN: Sit back, have a beer and enjoy.

O'LEARY: It's an A-list crowd. Seamus, it's going to be a great evening.

O'REGAN: I know. It is going to be a great evening.

O'LEARY: Look at gillerlight.ca and you can still get a couple of tickets.

O'REGAN: There you go. And the Giller Prize on tomorrow night on Talk TV and later on CTV. And on Newsnet, live coverage of course, Tuesday, November 8, 9:00 p.m.

Great to talk to you.

O'LEARY: Thanks, Seamus. John O'Leary, President, Frontier College dent, Frontier College


PUBLICATION: The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo)
DATE: 2005.11.05

Workplaces need to take lead in building literacy

Jacques Demers grew up in a poor household and emerged as an adult who could barely read and write.

Yet he hid it well and went on to become a successful coach in the National Hockey League.


The ingenious masking of illiteracy.

These are elements in a compound problem, and while it may surprise most of us that people can function without such fundamental skills, it's not news to literacy workers.

In fact, more than half the population of Waterloo Region soldiers on at the lowest two of five literacy levels. People struggle not just with the words on this page, but with the sentences formed and ideas conveyed.

That statistic, by the way, is an old one, dating from an international literacy survey carried out in the mid-1990s.

Results from the 2003 Adult Literacy Survey are gradually coming out. Don't expect a significant change.

Literacy levels in Canada inched up only marginally among 16- to 65-year- olds. Canada ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack of participating countries.

Nationally, 58 per cent of the adult population functions within the upper three literacy levels.

Demers' accomplishments aside, the latest survey once again makes the connection between literacy and personal improvement.

The lower the level, the less likely it's going to happen.

Conducted by Statistics Canada, the US National Centre for Education Statistics and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the survey found that workers with good literacy skills had a 60 per cent chance of getting a job after 16 weeks of unemployment.

After 48 weeks, the odds improved to 70 per cent, according to a Statistics Canada brief.

People functioning at the bottom two literacy levels "only had a 50 per cent chance of finding a job, even after 52 weeks of unemployment,'' the brief says.

Despite the tie low literacy has to poverty, and poverty to tax-consuming health and learning problems, literacy agencies struggle to wring cash from thick-headed decision-makers in the federal and provincial governments.

Funding for adult-literacy programs has been flatlined for almost 15 years, says Anette Chawla of the Ontario Literacy Coalition.

Family-literacy programs, meanwhile, get next to nothing in senior government support.

They bring children and parents together to relight an interest in learning that school frustrations and low literacy snuff out.

At the end of an eight-week session, most of the parent participants at least seriously consider returning to school, says Anne Ramsay of the Project Read Literacy Network of Waterloo-Wellington. The agency counts on donations and municipal grants to sustain its family-literacy work.

Project Read's website notes that one in three employers runs into basic- skills problems in the workforce. Only one in 10 sets up a workplace literacy program to help solve them.

The Conference Board of Canada hands out awards for that kind of initiative and its e-library at www.conferenceboard.ca carries a number of case studies.

It will look at the issue in reports expected to be released before the end of the year.

At a time when the need for workers with good numeracy and literacy skills is growing, interest in workplace programs seems to be slipping, says Alison Campbell, a senior research associate with the board.

On the shop floor, steady productivity depends on the ability of workers to read manuals and troubleshoot when machines break down, she said. It can hinge on something as delicate as a clear note left for the next shift.

Canada's modest improvement in literacy and numeracy over 10 years hardly rates a round of noisy high-fives. There are problems with sustained government funding. We need more workplace programs.

Demers spent 15 years as a coach and general manager.

He knows you don't win games sitting on the bench.

Christian Aagaard can be reached at 894-2250, ext. 2660, or by e-mail, caagaard@therecord.com


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