LBS Practitioner Training

Professional development support for Literacy and Basic Skills educators in Ontario

1.1 The Need for Literacy Training in Ontario

  • PDF


Any discussion about the need for literacy training begins with the question, What do you mean by ‘literacy’?”

  • The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) released in 1995, defined literacy as:

“The ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential”.

  • UNESCO defines literacy as

“a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.”

  • Literacy then, involves understanding and being able to use information that is required in order to function effectively in the knowledge-based societies that dominate the twenty-first century.  As the Ontario Literacy Coalition describes it,

"Literacy has moved from a skill set that is nice to have to one that is necessary to have if a person wants to meet his or her personal and economic goals."

  • In the second IALSS report, the literacy issue was described this way:

“While most people can read, the real question is whether their reading and writing skills meet the challenge of living and working in today's information-rich and knowledge intensive society and economy….

Beyond providing a more current understanding of what literacy means, the IALSS reports also tells us about the size of the problem that exists in Ontario:

  • the percentage of the population who are not able to successfully manage the literacy demands of their day-to-day lives,
  • the impact this has on our provincial economy, health care and social systems.

What was IALS?

The International Adult Literacy Survey or IALS was an international research project managed by Statistics Canada and jointly sponsored by the former National Literacy Secretariat (NLS) and Human Resources Development Canada, (HRDC).  The project involved broad-based administration and analysis of a comprehensive literacy survey in seven industrialized countries, including Canada, for the purpose of:

  • developing scales of comparison on literacy performance between people with a wide range of abilities, and
  • developing and comparing the demonstrated literacy skills of people across different countries, languages and culture

The startling results made both the general public and the Canadian government sit up and take notice. IALS found that 47% of Canadians were not keeping up with the increasing literacy demands of our culture. This statistic was arrived at by measuring the Canadian survey results against a scale of comparison based on five levels of literacy performance.  

Visit IALS Literacy Levels to see how literacy capacity is described at each of five levels.

PLEASE NOTE: IALS levels are not to be confused with the 5 LBS levels described in the Working with Learning Outcomes Matrix. LBS learners at all five levels mostly fit within the framework of IALS levels one and two.

JOURNAL LINK  What do you think?
Given your geographic location in Ontario, would you say these percentages reflect the levels of literacy in your area fairly accurately?  Which level(s) would have a higher percentage? Lower? What are the factors that, in your mind, affect the percentages for the levels of literacy in your region?



Although the following statements may come as no big surprise to literacy instructors, the IALS Report confirmed the following findings:

  • Education, training and lifelong learning are necessary to acquire and develop literacy.
  • Literacy is linked to economic success.
  • Employment is positively related to literacy.
  • The proportion of unemployed Canadians decreases as the literacy level increases.
  • Education is strongly related to literacy, but is not synonymous with it.
  • Literacy skills improve with practice and deteriorate if not used.
  • People with low literacy levels often do not acknowledge that they have a problem.
  • Literacy policies and programs make a difference.

Community Literacy of Ontario encapsulated the research in 20 Reasons Why Literacy Matters.

Let's explore the research

Select four readings from the following list of six links to delve deeper into the issues of adult literacy and life-long learning. Look for information and ideas that are shaping the direction of government literacy initiatives, and the impact they have on the content, focus and approaches we now use in working with adult learners.

  • highlights from the Canadian report, “Reading the Future” showing survey results by province and the impact of literacy in various aspects of daily life for Canadians
  • highlights from the second IALSS report, “Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society”, including information on the impact of literacy on the economy and labour market as well as responses that are needed to address the problems
  • a somewhat lengthy but excellent article on the importance of developing a culture of life-long learning in the 21st century and a strategy for moving in that direction. (TIP: Don’t try to read everything, unless you get hooked, but skim through several sections to get a sense of this important research.)
  • a short article from The Canadian Council on Learning on the Future of Literacy in Canada’s Largest Cities, and a description of literacy levels and projections to 2031
  • article entitled, Skills and Learning in Canada published by Certified General Accountants Association of Canada targeting the shortage of skilled workers in Canada as one of the most pressing public policy challenges in the country.
JOURNAL REFLECTION: What do you think?
As you see it, how has the current research impacted the vision for adult literacy in Ontario, and what role does it play in shaping the LBS Program?


What is LBS?

Copyright © 2013 LBS Practitioner Training. All rights reserved.