If you are putting together an literacy awareness campaign, whether it focuses on adult literacy or any other kind (numeracy, financial literacy, health literacy, technology literacy… you get the idea) it is important to engage youth in the process too. Why? Two reasons. First off, they are the adults of tomorrow. Secondly, we have seen trends where youth influence and educate adults on major shifts in thinking. Where adults get entrenched, youth and teens have open minds.
Let’s look at a couple of concrete examples.
1970s: The Metric System
In the late 1970s metric was introduced to Canada. A major campaign was launched at all levels, including youth. I know this because I was a youngster growing up in Canada at the time. In school were given rulers, measuring cups and spoons to take home. I remember teaching my Mom how to use the new measuring spoons and cups. We looked at recipes together and figured out how to translate old measurements into new and vice versa. I wasn’t alone. My classmates were doing the same thing. The children of that era engaged their parents on what metric was and how it worked. Now metric is an integrated part of Canadian life.
In the 1990s, a similar thing happened with the recycling movement, not only in Canada, but in the U.S.A. and various other countries, too. While the end objective was to get families and adults to recycle, the movement was actually led by the youth and teens who learned about it in school and took action. They educated their parents and other adults about the need for recycling.
Now that generation is now in their 20s, possibly approaching their 30s, and they have changed the way all of us think about our environment.
21st Century: Literacy
In the first half of the 21st century, literacy is our focus. We are reinventing our notions of literacy like never before in history. Any literacy campaign that does not engage youth is incomplete. It is the youth who will lead the adults into new ways of thinking and acting. They will not only de-stigmatize literacy, they’ll make it “cool” to know about literacy and value it. And once it is “cool”, engagement levels will skyrocket. Literacy as a stigmatized issue will become a memory.
Literacy awareness campaigns, promotions and marketing should engage young people in as many ways as possible. It is they who will take new – or renewed – ideas and put energy into making them issues of importance. The youth will be agents of change when it comes to literacy in the 21st century, not us more mature folk.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.