What is a national reading strategy? Why does Canada need one?

We live in an accelerated, information-saturated society that often discourages sustained engagement with many traditional forms of writing. Mass media, digital culture and stunning advances in communications technology together represent unprecedented opportunities in terms of how ideas circulate within technologically advanced societies. But these same forces also pose formidable challenges for those worried about the future of reading.

These are not theoretical concerns. In his bracing 2008 report on the state of Canadian literacy, TD Bank deputy chief economist Craig Alexander lays out compelling evidence to suggest that Canadians shouldn’t be complacent about generally positive standardized test scores and news of Canada’s standing on international academic rankings. Probing deeper, Mr. Alexander finds much to indicate that all is not well. Four in ten youth lack adequate literacy skills. Stubborn regional disparities persist. Boys lag behind girls. Poverty affects learning. As for adults, among Canadians between 16 and 65, almost half struggle with literacy, often due to linguistic barriers among new immigrants.

Many countries around the world have developed national programs to promote reading among children and the general population. In Canada, individual provinces and communities have made steps in this direction; however, because schools and libraries are the most obvious focus for public reading initiatives, and both are under provincial and municipal jurisdictions, we have no coordinated national strategy to promote reading.

The ultimate goal of a national strategy would be to promote reading among all Canadians, reflecting the value of reading as a tool for democracy and civic engagement, a means to equalize the playing field for all Canadians, a way for Canadians to learn about themselves, and a vehicle for joy.