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Helping to Close the Literacy Gap

Learn how you can help close the literacy gap and make a difference in the lives of those in need. Get involved today and help make a difference

Growing up in a relatively wealthy society where access to education is a given, we tend to assume that we are all equal beneficiaries of that educational system. Often hailing from middle class back-grounds, we enter school and all emerge down the road with roughly the same skills that allow us to move forward to our next stations in life. As students we pay little heed to the straggler among us who falls behind, or to the student who drops out. Later, as adults, we remain largely unaware of those who have fallen through the cracks in the education system. Perhaps our physical and social orbits, locked as they are, prevent us from coming into contact with this demographic. Whatever the case, we assume that as citizens of a developed nation we have all managed to somehow become sufficiently literate.

But beyond our own socio-economically informed views of reality, another story is tragically playing out: an alarming number of Canadians, often from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are struggling with illiteracy. From remote First Nations communities to our biggest cities, Canadian children living in poverty are entering school without the basic foundations needed to properly engage with their education system. Numbering over one million, these children from low-income families start school with fewer vocabulary, literacy and social skills than their middle class peers. In many cases that gap is never eliminated and the children never catch up. As a result they fail, drop out, or end their education prematurely.

Closing the Literacy Gap

It may surprise people who know little, or nothing, about the issue that roughly 15 percent of adult Canadians currently function at the lowest levels of literacy. More than double that number have not reached literacy levels that will allow them to properly advance in life. These figures come from a country deemed to have one of the highest standards of living on the planet.

At the moment there is no quick fix to this situation. Poverty, even in the most fortunate of societies, is not easily alleviated or eliminated. But there is also good news. Literacy workers tell us that outside of the Herculean task of eliminating poverty, there is, in fact, another way to help children at risk of becoming illiterate to sidestep such a fate: ensure that they have access to high quality books early in life. Lack of reading materials is recognized as a significant cause of illiteracy in children. Not only do most poor families not have books at home, but Canadian literacy programs that strive to help those very children also suffer from a severe shortage of high quality books.

In response to this crisis, a handful of individuals came together in 2004 to establish the Institute of Cross-cultural Exchange (ICE) – an all-volunteer charity organization dedicated to promoting children’s literacy and cross-cultural education at home and abroad. ICE raises money and acquires funding to purchase and donate children’s books to literacy programs; and at the same time, through its choice of titles, encourages learning about other cultures and understanding between them.

ICE currently donates a number of children’s titles published by Hoopoe Books, a non-profit publisher in the United States. The books contain beautifully illustrated folk tales from the Middle East and Central Asia that were collected and written into English by the late Afghan author, Idries Shah. Originating in the storytelling traditions of the East, the books are uniquely effective in the development of reading, language and thinking skills. The stories are designed to activate contextual thinking skills associated with the right side of the brain and help children manage a range of issues: including how to deal with fear, overcome difficulties, build self-confidence, find peaceful solutions, and work towards goals and dreams.

Closing the Literacy Gap

In just eight years ICE has donated over 82,000 books to more than 80 non-profit literacy groups in Canada. ICE has also provided tens of thousands more titles overseas for children who are in similar circumstances. In 2010, it started distributing Dari-Pashto editions to schools, orphan-ages and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) in Afghanistan. Hundreds of Spanish-English bilingual editions have also been delivered to children in Mexico, via a partner organization there. For most of the children, our books were the first they ever owned.

The books have been incredibly well-received by educators and families. As word spreads about the books, demand for the titles is increasing, both domestically and abroad. The goal of ICE is to increase its book donations to meet that growing need and to help close the literacy gap, which has proven so damaging to individuals and societies.

Pension Financial Literacy Gap in Canada

In Canada, a significant financial literacy gap exists when it comes to pension planning. Many Canadians lack the necessary knowledge and understanding to make informed decisions about their retirement savings. This gap in financial literacy can have serious consequences for retirees who may find themselves without enough money to support themselves in their golden years.

Understanding the Pension Financial Literacy Gap

The pension financial literacy gap refers to the difference between what Canadians know about pensions and what they need to know to make informed decisions. Many Canadians are unaware of the different types of pensions available, how they work, and the benefits and drawbacks of each. They may not understand how much they need to save, how to invest their savings, or how to withdraw money from their pension plan.

This lack of understanding can have serious consequences. For example, Canadians may not contribute enough to their pension plan, invest their savings poorly, or withdraw their funds too early or too late. All of these mistakes can result in a lower retirement income than expected, leaving retirees struggling to make ends meet.

Why the Pension Financial Literacy Gap Exists

There are several reasons why the pension financial literacy gap exists in Canada. First, the pension landscape in Canada is complex and constantly changing. With so many different types of pensions available, it can be difficult for Canadians to navigate the system and make informed decisions.

Second, many Canadians do not receive enough education about pensions. Schools do not teach financial literacy, and many employers do not offer enough education or resources to help their employees make informed decisions about their retirement savings.

Finally, the pension industry itself can be confusing and difficult to understand. Many pension plans are filled with jargon and technical terms that can be intimidating to those who are not familiar with them.

The Consequences of the Pension Financial Literacy Gap

The consequences of the pension financial literacy gap can be severe. Without a solid understanding of pensions, Canadians may not contribute enough to their pension plan, invest their savings poorly, or withdraw their funds too early or too late. All of these mistakes can result in a lower retirement income than expected, leaving retirees struggling to make ends meet.

In addition, retirees who do not have enough money to support themselves may have to rely on government programs, such as the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security. While these government programs are designed to provide a basic level of support for seniors, they may not be enough to cover all expenses in retirement. This can lead to financial insecurity and a reduced standard of living for retirees.

Moreover, the pension financial literacy gap can have broader economic consequences. If a large number of Canadians are not adequately prepared for retirement, it could put a strain on the government’s social safety net programs, as well as on the overall economy. Retirees who do not have sufficient retirement savings may be forced to continue working longer than they would like, potentially reducing job opportunities for younger workers.

Additionally, retirees with insufficient retirement savings may have to rely on family members for support, which could place a burden on the younger generation. This, in turn, could impact their ability to save for their own retirement, perpetuating the cycle of financial insecurity and lack of pension literacy.

To address the pension financial literacy gap, governments, employers, and financial institutions must work together to provide education and resources to Canadians. This includes providing clear and concise information about pension plans, retirement savings options, and investment strategies. Employers can also play a role by offering retirement planning services and financial education programs to their employees.

Ultimately, closing the pension financial literacy gap is crucial to ensuring that Canadians are able to retire comfortably and with financial security. By providing the necessary education and resources, we can help individuals make informed decisions about their retirement savings and investments, and reduce the economic burden on future generations.