Thousands of people in Canada demonstrate low levels of literacy skills. The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey creates a gloomy picture of literacy in Canada. 14.6 percent of respondents from Canada score as low as Level 1 and 27.3 percent are at Level 2 in prose literacy (Literacy Foundation, 2005a).
Level 1 covers individuals with extremely poor literacy skills; these people lack knowledge and abilities needed to perform even the simplest tasks (Literacy Foundation, 2005a). Individuals at Level 2 can read but face considerable difficulties, when working with materials that require comprehension; they cannot always develop new learning skills (Literacy Foundation, 2005a).
It goes without saying that the level of population literacy affects countries’ economic and social wellbeing (Literacy Foundation, 2005b). Unfortunately, the reasons behind low literacy rates and their implications for job performance remain poorly understood. This paper tries to explain the reasons of low literacy in Canada and offers recommendations to improve the quality of workplace performance in the country.
Surprisingly or not, Canada demonstrates remarkably low levels of literacy and workplace proficiency. In 2005, almost 48% of Canadians were at Literacy Levels 1 and 2 (Literacy Foundation, 2005b). Simply stated, almost every second Canadian could not cope with the simplest tasks and had few chances to develop better job skills (Literacy Foundation, 2005b).
Individuals with medium to high literacy skills and high levels of computer proficiency earned the highest incomes, whereas their low literacy counterparts failed to achieve even the modest level of income (Literacy Foundation, 2005b). It would be fair to assume that literacy is an essential factor of sustained economic disparities in the developed world (Literacy Foundation, 2005b). The question is in what causes low literacy levels and what can be done to improve the situation.
I believe that the lack of understanding of what counts as literacy is one of the most serious causes of continued illiteracy: entrepreneurs, business owners, and state officials simply fail to define what literacy is.
Furthermore, the boundary between social and practice-based literacy is increasingly blurred (Jackson, 2004). As a result, when individuals demonstrate low levels of literacy, does that mean that they cannot cope with the simplest life issues, or does that mean that the level of literacy is just enough for their survival? There is no answer to this question.
Another problem, in my opinion, is that no one can definitely say what literacy work is and how to integrate literacy with the key labor trends. I cannot but agree to Levine (2005) in that literacy has a potential to reduce social disparities and foster participation and inclusion. However, it is high time the meaning and significance of literacy were redefined.
I am convinced that, in order to raise literacy levels, new approaches for literacy need to be developed. Literacy is no longer a shallow combination of theoretical principles, which have little or nothing to do with the real-life conditions of workplace performance. Literacy cannot be project-based; nor can it be grant-dependent (Levine, 2005). Instead, literacy must become an inevitable component and the key prerequisite of success in everything we do (Levine, 2005).
Certainly, this approach is not without controversy. At the basic level, literacy is unique, and individuals hold entirely different perceptions about its role in the workplace. The lack of funding is another problem, which Canadian businesses and organizations must solve. Eventually, integrating literacy with workplace realities is impossible without producing a profound cultural shift, which is neither easy nor painless (Levine, 2005).
However, and I am sure of it, there is no way for Canadians to improve their literacy skills other than making literacy practical and available to the low-skilled workers. Every business owner and trade union must define the scope and boundaries of literacy needed to attain the necessary level of workplace proficiency. The success of literacy training will depend upon unions and businesses’ ability to integrate literacy requirements with the real-life conditions of their workplace performance.
Jackson, N. (2004). What counts as literacy work? Literacies, 3, 9-10.
Levine, T. (2005). Part of everything we do: Integrating literacy into the Canadian labor movement. Literacies, 6.
Literacy Foundation. (2005a). Learning a living: First results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey. ABC Canada, May, 1-4.
Literacy Foundation. (2005b). International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS). ABC Canada, November, 1-4.