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Describing the ProblemMeasuring the ProblemConnecting Illiteracy to Violence
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The Problem

Measuring the Problem

There are no statistics yet for the numbers of people in Canada, or around the world, who may find their learning as children and adults affected by their experiences of violence or the depth and breadth of such impact. It is hard to imagine how such statistics could be generated if we take into account the range of violences in people’s lives, how these interconnect and amplify each other, and the range of learning opportunities each person may seek to take on, or perhaps more often avoid even attempting, in the face of violence. Yet without such statistics it is not easy to bring an acknowledgment of the impact of violence into educational policy, research and practice.

Educational initiatives are key tools in breaking “cycles of violence,” opening a gateway to a different life. Education affects access to employment, quality of life and personal satisfaction. Violence can drastically impact the ability to study - severe violence can eliminate the possibility of even imagining a different life. Anecdotal evidence and initial research (Horsman, 2000) suggest violence undermines the capacity of women to feel capable, smart, able to learn in programs or make desired life changes.

Research suggests educational achievement is affected by experiences of violence and that the failure of educational institutions to take account of this impact may be extremely costly (Horsman, 2000). Girls and women who have experienced violence often start school, literacy and other programs to initiate change and escape violence, yet are expected to learn as though they are not victims of violence. When impacts are acute, victims of violence are viewed as needing medical solutions and a withdrawal from learning until they are able to learn in the educational system as it currently functions. Research shows this leaves women and those around them with the erroneous expectation they can erase the experience of violence despite the ongoing profound effect it has on identity and meaning (Lewis, 1999). This exacerbates the pervasive shame generated by violence and further hampers survivors’ attempts to succeed in education.

Costs of violence against women have been estimated at more than $4.2 billion annually (Greaves et al., 1995:2) yet costs of educational failure and under-achievement were not included. The high school dropout rate for girls was estimated in 1999 at 9% (Statistics Canada, 2004). Although there are no reliable drop-out statistics for adult literacy programs, anecdotal evidence suggests many students drop out without achieving their goals, goals that may be limited by low expectations shaped by violence and earlier school failure.

Greaves, L. Hankivsky, O. Kingston-Riechers, J. Kingston-Riechers, J. (1995), Selected estimates of the costs of violence against women. London, Ontario: Centre for Research on Violence against Women and Children.
Horsman, J. (2000). Too scared to learn: Women, violence and education. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lewis, T. (1999). Living beside: Performing normal after incest memories return. Toronto: McGilligan Books.
Statistics Canada. (2004). Education Matters: The gap in achievement between boys and girls. Ottawa: Author (81-004-XIE)

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