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About Literacy

Low-level literacy is a systemic factor of poverty, low self-esteem, sense of hopelessness, not making informed decision and feelings of having little power in the decision making process of the community. As the requirements for literacy increase in today’s technological environment the economic gap between persons with low- and high-level literacy will be greater.

An increase in a person’s literacy skills can result in changes in the person’s self esteem, decision making skills, sense of powerlessness and economic situation. As one tutor said about his student, “He now holds his head high.” Increasing literacy skills has an impact on the person, his/her family and the community as a whole. As a person improves literacy skills the ripple ramifications are dramatic. An improvement in literacy skills builds capacity for the individual, opens doors, and gives the person more options and opportunities.

Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL, 2005) from which the information below is drawn, defines literacy as the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities at home, at work and in the community. There are four foundation skills:

Prose literacy – the knowledge and skill needed to understand and use information from text such as news stories, brochures and instruction manuals.

Document literacy – the knowledge and skill required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job application, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps and tables, and charts.

Numeracy – the knowledge and skills required to effectively manage the mathematical demands in diverse situations. Only 45% of Canadians have the necessary math skills for daily living.

Problem solving – involves goal directed thinking and action in situation for which no routine procedure is available.

Level 1 – The adult has serious difficulties dealing with printed material such as finding the correct dosage of aspirin to give a child from the directions on the label.
10% of adult Albertans have serious difficulty reading and writing. This translates to 209,000 people in Alberta.

Level 2 – The adult can read words but not read well. Literacy skills may be adequate for the present, but the person would find it difficult to learn new job skills.
25% of adult Albertans have limited literacy skills. This translates to 544,000 people in Alberta

Level 3 – Considered the minimum desired level of literacy skills.

Level 4/5 – The person has a wide range of reading skills and can easily deal with a variety of complex material.

How Literacy Affects People:

People with lower literacy skills earn significantly lower incomes, experience higher unemployment, and rely to a greater degree on unemployment insurance and social assistance than those with higher level of literacy.

Literacy is strongly associated with economic success. An individual’s literacy level can indicate their success in the labour market

The gap between the level of literacy skills required by growth industries and the present skill of our workforce is growing.

Literacy skills are maintained and strengthened through regular use. Formal education provide the base but evidence indicates that applying literacy skills in daily activity, both at home and at work, is associated with higher levels of performance.

There is a clear link between low literacy skills and health and safety risks, and their cost to our health system. There is a link between literacy skills and crime. Many people in trouble with the law, particularly chronic offenders, have lower literacy skills than the general population.

Adult education and training programs are less likely to reach individuals with low literacy skills as most training goes to those with higher skills.

There is a link between the literacy level of the parent and the child. If a parent has low-level literacy, the child is more likely to have low-level literacy level as an adult.

Adults with low-level literacy are less likely to participate in adult learning activities and are five (5) times less likely to be involved in active informal learning such as a guided tour.