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.