Read between the lines

Queen’s students need to take a more active role in combatting the literacy issues that exist within the Kingston community 

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At any given time, there are thousands of students on the Queen’s campus studying a multitude of subjects, but most involve reading. 

Whether it’s instructions to a lab assignment or a 400-page book on contemporary values portrayed in Shakespearean plays, each student is required to do at least some reading on a day-to-day basis. 
 
Even just walking through the University District, you need to be able to read street and building names to get to classes on time and to find your way around. These seem like simple everyday tasks that many people take for granted as common abilities.
 
However, this isn’t the case for many people throughout Canada, let alone people in this very city. 
 
If we take a moment to look outside of our Queen’s bubble the literacy problems that persist in Kingston are glaringly obvious. Part of the onus falls on us as students to help solve the problem.
 
According to the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network, a national non-profit organization representing literacy coalitions, organizations and individuals, 42 per cent of Canadian adults between the ages 16 and 64 have below average levels of literacy capabilities. Less than 20 per cent of people with low literacy levels are able to find work. 
 
In the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey completed by Statistics Canada, it showed that millions of Canadians don’t possess the literacy skills required to meet the difficulties of society and this loss impacts not only the social well-being of a person but also families, communities and Canada as a country. Even a one per cent increase of literacy rates would result in a billion-dollar economic growth each year for Canada and an increase of employment and productivity. 
 
Aside from just economic growth, the survey also found that an increase of literacy rates would lead to “improved health, productivity, reduced social costs and higher growth”. 
 
In short, improved literacy levels mean a higher quality of life. 
 
According to the Kingston Literacy and Skills Center, in 1976, almost 27 per cent of adults in Kingston had less than their ninth-grade education and results from a study the following year determined that there was a great need for a literacy program in Kingston and its implementation became a priority. Since then, the program continues to service over 352 people, proving that there should still be a push for more literacy programming in Kingston. 
 
Often people consider Kingston to be a “university town” when, in reality, Queen’s is just a fraction of the Kingston community. 
 
Labeling Kingston as a “university town” is dangerous because it can often lead people to disregard real issues of lack of education that exist outside of the institution.
 
As students who are welcomed into Kingston for a number of years in order to obtain degrees we should be able to contribute and give back to a community that already gives so much to the students that occupy it for roughly four years before moving on. 
 
Getting involved in organizations that exist to increase literacy rates among people of all ages within the Kingston community is one of the first steps students should take. In a city where residents are often an afterthought because of the large post-secondary student presence, putting the skills we’ve learned to good use is a necessity. Students can influence immediate change by contributing to the economic prosperity of the city through more than just paying for their educations and servicing the university. 
 
There are programs here at Queen’s that look to bringing awareness to literacy issues and finding solutions to help the community of Kingston.
 
I’ve had the privilege of being involved in an on-campus club called Queen’s Student’s for Literacy (QSL) which runs three programs through various elementary schools, women’s shelters and correctional facilities in the Kingston area. 
 
QSL exists in partnership with Frontier College, which is a national literacy organization in Canada that works with volunteers to help people reach higher levels of literacy. They push for individual success and encourage people to seek opportunities through utilizing their 
newfound skills.  
 
The program operates as a means of connecting Queen’s Students to the Kingston community to help raise awareness of an issue that is prevalent across Canada and affects all of us directly 
and indirectly.
 
We need to expand our efforts to help alleviate an issue that is often placed on the backburner. Literacy needs to be viewed as a fundamental right and, as students who benefit from attending one of the top universities in Canada, the least we can do is take measures to ensure that the rest of the Kingston community is capable of attaining this right. 
 
Kylie Dickinson is a fourth-year English major and Art History minor. She is also the QSL Vice-President of Communications and the Read for Fun Intern.
 

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