STEVE BARTLETT: Adult literacy programs have an amazing impact

Steve Bartlett
Published on June 28, 2014
Linda Richards is the recipiant of the 2014 Learner Achievement Award.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Linda Richards stood at a podium Friday and read a four-page speech she had written.


It was a moving moment, and it wouldn’t have been possible four years ago.

Richards had poor reading and writing skills back then. Life, especially earning a living, was difficult.

She was a home-care worker and struggled with putting her thoughts on paper when writing patient reports.

Organizing grocery lists was hard. So was ensuring medications went to the right people.

“I had to make doubly sure that I was doing this right,” she said. “I would ask other workers to check my work because I was uncertain if everything was OK.”

Life has been improving for Richards since 2010.

That year, out of work and tackling some personal challenges, she joined a women’s program at Stella’s Circle.

She gained confidence to start dealing with her issues — one of the biggest being her lack of literacy skills.

Richards enrolled in a Level I adult basic education (ABE) program at Stella’s Circle in 2012.

She practised reading and writing daily, and it paid off.

Earlier this week, she donned a cap and gown for her Level I graduation. She’s been accepted for Level II and III at the Discovery Centre.

“I am amazed by my progress,” she said.

She has her sights set on taking a personal-care attendant program after Level III.

“I feel confident that I can do it,” she said. “I think I would feel more comfortable writing reports and recording medications as a homecare worker. I have more knowledge now about what to put down on paper.”

Richards delivered her speech to a room of waterlogged golfers who played in this year’s Peter Gzowski Invitational (PGI), a tournament the late CBC broadcaster started in 1986 to raise money for literacy programs.

You could have heard a divot drop as she spoke.

The courage, effort and journey involved in reaching the podium was apparent in her story.

It was also obvious she was a deserving recipient of this year’s PGI/Telegram Learner Achievement Award. It goes to an ABE student who has demonstrated a strong commitment to learning to read and write.

“I feel more confident in myself and believe in myself, too,” she said later.

Before ABE, Richards’ literacy level was assessed at three out of 10, and her self-esteem suffered.

Her literacy level is now at six and she’s ready to the take the world by storm.

“I have no fear at all,” she said with a laugh.

Linda Richards’ success shows the value and power of adult literacy programs.

And in a province where a high percentage of adults have low reading and writing skills — 50 per cent and among the highest in Canada, some studies say — there are many more people in the very predicament she was in four years ago, many more people who aren’t living up to their potential.

That’s why there’s a need for more public and private literacy funding.

It also why everyone needs to encourage adults with such challenges to take a course and improve their lives.

Richards offered this simple advice to anyone struggling with reading and writing.

“Never give up,” she said. “And ask for help.”

There’s no disagreeing with that.


Steve Bartlett is managing editor of

The Telegram. Reach him via email at