Literacy and mobility

From the TJ this morning:

New Brunswick has “got to raise the bar” on literacy if the province has any hope of revitalizing its flailing economy and contributing to a workforce that can compete in a changing global marketplace, the Education minister asserted Wednesday. The province’s illiteracy rate, at 48 per cent, is a crisis Kelly Lamrock will be tackling as part of a national forum scheduled for April 14 and 15.

Most of you (including my wife) accuse me of having a one track mind. Well, I guess you are right.

Because when I see this type of statistic I see the words ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT in bright neon.

Why? Two reasons: 1) Literacy rates are coorelated with out-migration. The more educated folks are the more likely they are to leave (which by default leaves less educated here); and 2) over the past 20 years we have been funding with public money jobs that don’t require literate people (fisheries, some tourism jobs, certain types of manufacturing, etc).

On the second point, not considering government funding, our economy has not made the transition to jobs that require literacy as fast as some other provinces.

Following on my TJ article this week, maybe we should have economic development strategies that promote jobs that require literacy?

Now, I am not saying that we don’t need to have a bottom up approach here. That would be silly. We still have to deal with the 48% of people that are functionally illiterate and that will require significant effort.

But what bothers me about this topic along with a host of others including post-secondary education, immigration, etc. is that people only give passing significance to the economic development factor. When you ask the immigration ‘experts’ why immigrants leave New Brunswick they cite the ‘lack of local capacity’ or ‘barriers’, etc. They rarely mention the fact that most immigrants leave to find better work elsewhere (this has been validated by several national studies). Same thing with post-secondary. All the experts get in a room and talk about how we can keep our graduates here after finishing school. “Let’s offer them a tuition rebate to stay”. “Let’s make our communities more youth friendly.” Blah, blah, blah. Kids leave for a) jobs, b) jobs and c) because they think the grass is greener over there (although SoundGarden‘s “The grass is always greener where the dogs are sh…….ing” comes to mind).

We must keep clearly at the centre of all of this one fact: poor economies over time lead to all of these issue – illiteracy, out-migration, inability to keep new graduates, inability raise enough taxes to pay for government services, etc. It is not the only determining factor, of course. But it is a major one.

You cannot – statistically proven – have a highly literate population, growing communities, lots of taxes to pay for government services – in a poor economy.

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0 Responses to Literacy and mobility

  1. Geeks on Ice says:

    It’s not a one track mind David.. Litteracy and economic prosperity go hand in hand. It is why we have used some of the funds raised by Geeks on Ice, which is a group of enterprises who share an interest in the growth of our local knowledge economy, to invest in the Moncton Regional Learning Council to improve litteracy along the Route 116 area.

    The money was invested in purchasing technology to conduct workshops and tutoring to improve literacy rates. With a shortage of skilled labor for a knowledge workforce it is vital that our sector plant the seeds to ensure the next generastion can read and write.

    This also illustrated the importance that economic players in the region place on literacy.

  2. mikel says:

    Well, you can also say EVERYTHING is interrelated. Because there is a relation doesn’t mean anything about ‘causation’. There ARE ‘literate’ jobs in the province-go to medical school or nurses school and you’ll probably find a job in the province.

    If people are illiterate then thats clearly an educational issue. I still have no idea how a person can get a high school diploma without knowing how to read. I hate to sound like a geezer, but I do recall there were things called ‘tests’, and in order to pass the tests you pretty much had to be able to read. If you couldn’t read then you ‘failed’ and if you failed then you couldn’t graduate.

    If for some reason they are just letting kids pass because, well, i can’t imagine the reason, but I guess I should have been much smarter than those two years I spent at summer school to pass the science courses I flunked during the year. Hell, I got a NINE percent in chemistry but I could at least read the book!

    I’d suspect the reverse of that, by getting more emphasis on education then you address economic development. Again, this is waterloo, and pretty much most of the economy is ‘education’.

    But the current economy does play a central point. Over at TJ Burke’s website he’s complaining about how all the ex pat NBers contacting him for jobs are all the useless arts degree holders. Meanwhile, for ‘transformation’ its clear that they mean to get more kids in community college to prepare them for the jobs that currently exist, not those that could or will.

    That’s a big issue for all the reasons you mention, and its particularly problematic because of the blog you posted yesterday-16% with university is a real shocker.

  3. nbt says:

    You’re right on the money David as there is no doubt low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country, province or region.

    I was always impressed with the high national literacy rates amongst Icelanders — which stand at close to 100%. I like this quote from John Ibbitson’s book The Polite Revolution on the matter of Iceland vs. Newfoundland (which I am sure you read, but it begs repeating):

    “Federal mismanagement of the fishery led to its collapse and to the near extinction of the northern cod, one of the greatest environmental and economic failures to beset a modern democratic government. For the same reason that it allowed the cod stocks to be destroyed – a chronic inability to say “no” – Ottawa colluded with provincial governments through relaxed Employment Insurance rules and grant to squander valuable capital, by permitting, and even encouraging, people to remain in isolated communities that, with each advancing year, were less able to provide steady jobs, much less the necessary infrastructure.”

    #(which makes me think of last nights George Strombo interview on “The Hour” with Danny Williams were the premier said rural Newfoundland’s where it’s at because of a tourism video?? Groan) Anyway back to the rest of his excerpt.#

    “And the region’s inhabitants have themselves to blame, for allowing their own slide. Too many Atlantic Canadians are comfortable with a life of churlish dependence on federal handouts, defiantly defending their cultural heritage by blaming the very hand that feeds them (even if with cause), and blindly, blithely carrying on with what every single citizen should consider an intolerable status quo, sighing resignedly when anyone with the gumption packs up their bags and leaves. We should all be ashamed of ourselves, for letting it come to this.

    There is a resource that trumps all other resources. It is more valuable than diamonds or gold and more difficult to mine. It takes longer to nurture and harvest than a replanted forest. Guarantees of return on investment can seem as tenuous as a wheat field in spring. Yet the riches for those economies that can harness and exploit this resource surpass the most lucrative oil deposit. This resource is us: human skill, enterprise, knowledge. Atlantic Canada has been eclipsed, not because the cod disappeared, but because an entire society banked on cod, and lumber, and coal.

    Consider, again, Iceland. For virtually all of the second millennium, this barren island in the North Atlantic was subject to neglect, periodic deprecations by raiding parties, and volcanic eruptions. So isolated were the Icelanders that even today they speak Old Norse, and so ethically homogeneous are they that the population of 288,000 is a prized laboratory for genetic research.

    In 1944, Iceland declared its independence from Denmark. Given its location, its lack of any meaningful resources other than fish (quick name a prosperous modern economy based on fish), and it history of colonial dependence, Iceland’s prospects seemed bleak.

    And yet, the country had tremendous inner potential. Its people were fiercely independent of mind. The first general assembly, Althingi, convened in 930 and met yearly to pass laws and judgments. With independence, the island moved quickly to establish itself as a valuable member of the Western Alliance. Iceland stubbornly protected the all-important fishery, successfully taking on the Royal Navy in defense of the island’s right to unilaterally extend the boundery of its coastal waters. But despite their heavy reliance on the fishery, Icelanders read more books per capita than any other people in Europe — and their efforts soon paid off. Today, Iceland’s economy boasts real economic annual growth of 5 per cent, well above the average of the rest of the industrialized world. While fishing continues to account for about 20 per cent of gross domestic product, financial services, communications and tourism now make up about two-thirds of the GDP. The country’s efforts to exploit geothermal and hydroelectric energy sources have made it less dependent on imported oil, and the low energy costs have attracted heavy industry. Icelanders are highly educated, routinely leaving the island for a first or second post-secondary degree, but because of the strong local deep attachment to their land, most of them come back. Despite a tiny population – less than half of Newfoundland’s — Iceland boasts a national university, a national museum, a broadcasting network and it own central bank and stock exchange.”

    So there is no question, strong literacy rates have the potential to spill over [positively] into the economy. Also, I wouldn’t want to leave out that the better our democratic institutions work and the more freedom our economy has (away from private monopolies and government intervention and regulation) the better off NBers will be. I see Iceland scored well in a host of categories when it came to economic freedom.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It is very disappointing that the people are passionately protesting change as proposed by the recent education reform reports. Do people actually think what we have is adequate and effective?

    Unfortunately, the ‘solution’seems to be to maintain status quo and throw infinite money at education.

    Issues receiving signicant PR lately have had little to do with making our education system more effective:

    – protests over bussing with concern little Johnney may have to walk 6 blocks and outrage that school busses follow a route between the student’s home and the school and are not available as a taxi to drop kids wherever they may want to go (Fredreicton stories)

    – protests by parents upset that their disruptive children (special needs,guns, drugs) are removed or relocated from the mainstream classes

    – protests for consolidation of rural schools who have inadequate enrollments

    – Protests by STU professors, one of our few ‘teaching’ universities, because teaching 6 classes (240 hours or about 12% of the year) was just too much to allow them to attend conferences and whatever else they do with over 80% of their time

    We need education reform. We need to recognize and cultivate inspired students (how about free tuition for the top performers). We need to have environments where students can learn and teachers can teach. We need to have universities who put as much energy into teaching students as they do avoiding them. No wonder we are turning out questionable graduates.

    If parents are too disengaged to view the education system as more than a baby sitter service, we need government to step up and make some tough decisions.

  5. mikel says:

    Interesting thoughts, however, I think I found the achilles heel of NBT’s thinking-his assumption that you can have BOTH a ‘freedom from monopolies’ as well as ‘little government intervention and regulation’.

    Anybody in New Brunswick ought to know better than that.