Imagine looking at the headline and the first paragraph of this article and being unable to figure out what it says.
That is the plight of more people than Canadians like to think are having trouble reading and writing, but it is an issue that the Wellington County Learning Centre has been dealing with for nearly two decades.
Nearly 774 million adults around the world struggle with literacy. In Canada there are more than nine million individuals who face various degrees of literacy challenges
That is why the Learning Centre was created.
“Most adults have enough to get by,” said the centre’s Youth Program Coordinator Laurie Few. “They can read Open and Closed signs, and street signs. But, when it comes to reading a report for work, or having to write one … ”
In today’s work force, the required skills and education levels are increasing, yet millions of people lack essential skills. International Literacy Day, celebrated Sept. 8, is a day for potential learners to take the next step to seek help and upgrade their skills.
And that is the problem that the centre is hoping to address as it celebrated that day on Sept. 8.
The centre provides materials to teach those who are struggling, and by finding volunteers who can help them learn.
Few said there are numerous reasons why some people struggle with such things as reading and writing (and also math, which is, today, “a big one”). It could be an undiagnosed condition. Perhaps the person moved around a great deal while growing up, and was simply passed along from school to school and grade to grade, never quite comprehending what was being taught, and never catching up.
“A lot don’t have grade 12,” she said. “They didn’t finish school. A lot of them have attention problems. They couldn’t sit still in school.”
Those are the functional literates. They can read the name of a store or a direction sign, but they have difficulty putting sentences together on paper, or reading a number of paragraphs and comprehending what they have just read.
Or, they have trouble filling in forms for such things as job and passport applications.
“We do have a number of forms here from government, which are completed to begin with,” Few said. “I’ve been here for over ten years now, and we’ve had two people who had virtually no ability. We had to start with the alphabet.”
And for young people, it is simply a matter of having fallen behind, and needing some extra help to catch up. They are “usually a grade or two behind” in their abilities.
Most tutors work with a student for six months, but Few noted that many develop a good relationship, and some work together for a year or two, until the student has learned what is needed.
Chris Rehmann is a graduate of the literacy program, and a high school graduate – thanks to the Learning Centre. In a telephone interview just prior to heading off to work as a welder, he sounds upbeat, positive, and proud of his diploma, which he did not have to obtain by sitting in a classroom.
“It was quite the challenge,” he admitted.
Rehmann, who lives with his family in the Arthur area, went to the learning centre and staff there tested his abilities, and then set up a course outline for him, which he refers to as the GED Bible. He had two different tutors.
“It took me four years until I felt comfortable to write,” he said, noting that he had dropped out of high school at age 16. “I didn’t finish grade 9.”
Today, he and several family members all work at the W.C. Wood Company Limited, in Guelph, and he is a spot welder there, placing coils in the liners of chest freezers.
Rehmann said he liked the way he could work at his own pace at the Learning Centre. “If you work with the right person, it’s great,” he said. “The tutors I had were phenomenal.”
He said they determined where he had difficulties, and kept working on those until he was able to overcome them – “Until you’ve got it down pat.”
The results of his stint at the centre is, “I do a lot more reading. Mainly the Newspapers. I do pick up the odd book.”
He added, “My wife [Christine] reads all the time. I’m too active.”
Dean Percy and his wife, Connie, both volunteer at the centre, and Dean said it has some wonderful benefits for him.
He retired from the University of Guelph in 1997 and has been a volunteer tutor for the last ten years.
“I really enjoy teaching,” he said. “I thought this would be a good outlet.”
He works with adults, and Connie works with kids.
He said there are variable lengths of time with each students.
He meets his students, appropriately enough, a short walk away from his home, at the Wellington County library in Aboyne. Connie occasionally volunteers from her home or the student’s, but Dean Percy said he prefers no outside distractions for the sessions.
He said each student comes with a different personality and different needs.
Percy said that over the years, he has had only one student stop taking the course. That student simply could not overcome the fear of trying to write a few sentences down. “He was unwilling, or unable to do that,” despite having good speaking ability.
“He fell by the wayside,” Percy said, a little sadly.
But he tends to focus on the positive. “I have one adult now that is a real delight,” he said.
The Learning Centre supplies the materials for the teachers and students. He said having the student read aloud helps him to pick up pronunciation problems, and after they finish the piece, he will ask for a summary of what they just read.
“It helps their writing skills,” he said of that process. “It gives me an idea of their comprehension of what they’ve just read.”
One of his students now reads books on her own and regularly reads Newspapers. He said when he started with some of his students, they had difficulties with even small words, and, “You wonder how they’re coping in the real world.”
And, he added, “They’re missing so much in life.”
As for his volunteering, Percy believes he is the one who benefits.
He said he and Connie both have great satisfaction from helping others to learn.
“In the final analysis, I’ve really received more than I’ve given,” he said.
To contact the centre for someone unable to read this article, the phone number is 519-848-3462 or toll-free 1-888-368-7889 or just email firstname.lastname@example.org.