literacy liberates

As the students pile off the brand new Standard bus company buses across the territory to begin their 2011-2012 school year, do they realize just how important the task before them is for all of us? The politicians and community dignitaries gathered for t

As the students pile off the brand new Standard bus company buses across the territory to begin their 2011-2012 school year, do they realize just how important the task before them is for all of us?

The politicians and community dignitaries gathered for the sod turning at FH Collins Secondary School earlier this week seemed to know. Stacks of studies certainly support the economic, social, political and even health benefits to our society of higher literacy rates.

Putting books in the eager, well-scrubbed hands of Yukon kindergarteners, however, represents only part of the literacy equation. As Literacy BC, an organization that promotes and supports literacy and learning in our provincial neighbour, notes, “Canada’s low literacy rate is a symptom of deep and widespread social inequality created, in large part, by poverty.”

According to last year’s Campaign 2000 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada 610,000, or one in 10 Canadian children, live in poverty ( They cited the additional fact that this statistic does not include the “one in four children in First Nations communities growing up in poverty.”

Literacy BC believes “these children are often not well served by the school system where they are likely to be labelled and placed in classes where less is expected of them and less may be offered.”

Clearly Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) initiatives must be supported as a part of any effort to address this systemic deficit.

But ECEC programs, which like health care fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, from Campaign 2000’s perspective “will continue to remain under-resourced and under-developed as a social determinant of health and a key part of an effective anti-child poverty strategy unless all levels of government – federal, provincial/territorial, First Nations and local – are engaged to play a full role.”

The effectiveness of ECEC efforts as an anti-poverty and pro-literacy tool demands comprehensive support. This simple fact is corroborated by the US Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study which found that Head Start programs had no impact on future student test scores.

The authors of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, offer a likely reason for this in the fact that “instead of spending the day with his own undereducated, overworked mother, the typical Head Start child spends the day with someone else’s undereducated, overworked mother. (And a roomful of similarly needy children.)”

Poor paycheques traditionally has come with ECEC jobs as well.

If we somehow manage to pay the needed attention to our own literacy challenges, we still have the global deficit to face. UNESCO statistics depressingly state “today, one in five adults is still not literate and about two-thirds of them are women while 67.4 million children are out of school.” South Asia and sub-Sahara Africa hold the bulk of the world’s 793 million adults lacking minimum literacy skills but every region is affected. The poverty link to literacy painfully persists globally as well.

International Literacy Day next Thursday focuses in on the essential relationship between literacy and peace. Ultimately a society split by poverty, gross inequality and the resulting low literacy levels cannot long remain at peace.

As Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, states in this year’s International Literacy Day message; “Lasting peace is founded on respect for human rights and social justice.

“In today’s knowledge-driven societies, lack of literacy is more than ever synonymous with exclusion and marginalization … “This unacceptable situation is holding back all efforts to reduce poverty and advance human development.

“It is an infringement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and a threat to peace and security.

“Literacy is a development accelerator and a force for peace.”

Our students have a lot of work to do this school year and we do as well if they are to succeed. Their success is our success.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read