3.1 English literacy in the NWT

Similarly, institutions like schools also socialize people into particular models and practices of literacy. Literacy associated with schooling emphasizes reading and writing, and also specific ways of using language and interacting, like sitting quietly in a circle at story time, or being able to answer questions about a story. In Canada, school literacy is based on English and French literacy models. School literacy has become what Street calls 'the defining type' of literacy18: that is, we tend to measure people's literacy skills in terms of 'school literacy'.

In the Northwest Territories, using school literacy to define literacy, we see that, in 1999, overall:

  • 13% of people had less than Grade 9 as their highest level of schooling19.
  • 19% of people did not have a high school diploma20.

Again, using school literacy as the standard, Aboriginal people, who make up most of the population in many communities, have much lower levels of achievement than non–Aboriginal people21:

  • 26% of Aboriginal adults have less than Grade 9 as their highest level of schooling.
  • 55% of Aboriginal adults have less than a high school diploma as their highest level of education
  • Only 2% of Aboriginal adults have a university degree

Being literate, as measured by school literacy, is important because it is one way in which people can take more control of their lives. It lets them take part in institutional learning and the economic life of the community. People with low literacy skills are more likely to:

  • be poor—64% of people earning less than $10,000 a year have very low literacy skills.
  • be in an accident, than their co–workers who can read well.

18 Street, B.V. (1995) Social Literacies: Critical approaches to literacy in development, ethnography and education. London: Longman.
19 1999 NWT Labour Force Survey
20 Ibid.
21 Government of the Northwest Territories, Towards Literacy: A Strategy Framework 2001–2005.