Some thoughts on the Speech from the Throne

Today the Governor General delivered the Canada – Speech from the Throne – September 2020 which opened the second session of the 43rd Parliament. The federal government had prorogued or shut down Parliament this past summer; the Speech from the Throne signals a whole new session. It outlines the government’s intentions in terms of policies, legislation, and financial activities.

This speech reflects the current coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Canadians. It is organized around four pillars each of which is influenced by the pandemic:

  1. Fighting the pandemic and saving lives
  2. Supporting people and businesses
  3. Building back a stronger, more resilient Canada
  4. Standing up for who we are as Canadians

As is typically the case, the Speech from the Throne does not mention adult literacy.

The closest reference to adult education and training is a promise to create 1 million jobs including “immediate training to quickly skill up workers.” Apparently, the government intends to make the “largest investment in Canadian history in training for workers” including,

  • Supporting Canadians as they build new skills in growing sectors;
  • Helping workers receive education and accreditation;
  • And strengthening workers’ futures, by connecting them to employers and good jobs, in order to grow and strengthen the middle class.

The pandemic brought into the open what many, especially the labour movement, had pointed out for years – the problems with the Employment Insurance system. EI does not cover all workers and the government had to move in with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The Speech from the Throne proposes another short term solution – the Canada Recovery Benefit – while at the same time pledging to reform the EI system so that more people qualify including the self-employed and those working in the gig economy. Since training is integral to the EI system, improved literacy programming is possible.

The Speech from the Throne acknowledges the many gaps and inequalities in our society lay bare by the pandemic. Commitments to invest in early learning and childcare (based on the Quebec model), housing, rural broadband access, before and after school programs will have direct impact on adults’ ability to seek further education and training.

The government has heard the calls to address the “she-cession” created by the pandemic recognizing its impact on women, especially mothers, committing to ensuring women’s safety, and creating an action plan for women in the economy.

The government also has named systemic racism as a reality in our country and outlined steps to address it, a list that mirrors much of what we’ve heard from the Black Lives Matter movement. And it will continue its slow progress towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

I was encouraged to see the government boldly acknowledge inequality, systemic racism, and unequal opportunity in our society. The very act of naming these issues is a step in the right direction. Inequality, lack of opportunity and racism affect people’s ability to participate in education and training. As usual, the devil is in the details but for the moment the outline presented today holds much potential.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, COVID-19, Federal Government and Literacy, Skills, Speech from the Throne | Leave a comment

Your input is needed

UNESCO is in the process of preparing the next Global Report on Adult Learning and Education which will be the fifth such report. Each member country contributes to the report which will be launched at seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) in Morocco in 2022.

Our colleague Daniel Baril from the Institut de cooperation pour l’éducation des adultes (ICÉA) who is also Chair of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, is collaborating with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO to obtain information for GRALE V from civil society. For GRALE IV, Daniel told me that Canada’s input was a compilation of input from the federal government, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) and the civil society input. Again, civil society has the opportunity to contribute to this important international exercise. Your input matters.

The questionnaire can be access here Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (ALE) – Canadian Adult Education Civil Society Consultation in English and here for the French version Rapport mondial sur l’apprentissage et l’éducation des adultes – Consultation de la société civile canadienne en éducation des adultes

The deadline is October 9, 2020.

Below is Daniel’s email with more details (I think the links in the email should work).

Please consider participating.



UNESCO has launched a survey for the publication of the next Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 5). As part of this process, the Institut de cooperation pour l’éducation des adultes (ICÉA) and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO are consulting with Canadian civil society.  By civil society organization, we mean any organization that is not an a State agency and/or a ministry.

 Consultation ends on October 9, 2020.

The results of this consultation will be shared with the Canadian authorities responsible for the production of the Canadian report to UNESCO. In addition, an article will be published.

To access the consultation questionnaire, CLICK HERE. Or copy and paste this URL into your web browser :

We invite you to disseminate this invitation widely within your networks.

For more information on the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education, CLICK HERE.

For more information about ICÉA, CLICK HERE (in French only).

For more information about the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, CLICK HERE.

For more information on this consultation, you can contact Daniel Baril, Executive Director of ICÉA, at or Isabelle Levert-Chiasson, Education Programme Officer at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO at



L’UNESCO a lancé la phase de collecte d’informations pour la publication du prochain Rapport mondial sur l’apprentissage et l’éducation des adultes (GRALE 5). Dans le cadre de ce processus, l’Institut de coopération pour l’éducation des adultes (ICÉA) et la Commission canadienne pour l’UNESCO consultent la société civile canadienne. Par organisation de la société civile, nous entendons toute organisation qui n’est pas une agence d’État et/ou un ministère.

La consultation se termine le 9 octobre 2020.

Les résultats de cette consultation seront partagés avec les autorités canadiennes responsables de la production du rapport canadien à l’UNESCO. En outre, un article sera publié.

Pour accéder au questionnaire de la consultation, CLIQUEZ ICI ou copiez et collez cette URL dans votre navigateur web :

Nous vous invitons à diffuser largement cette invitation au sein de vos réseaux.

Pour plus d’informations sur le Rapport mondial sur l’éducation et la formation des adultes, CLIQUEZ ICI.

Pour plus d’informations sur l’ICÉA, CLIQUEZ ICI.

Pour plus d’informations sur la Commission canadienne pour l’UNESCO, CLIQUEZ ICI.

Pour plus d’informations sur cette consultation, vous pouvez contacter Daniel Baril, directeur exécutif de l’ICÉA, à ou Isabelle Levert-Chiasson, chargée de programme éducation à la Commission canadienne pour l’UNESCO à .

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, CMEC, Federal Government and Literacy, Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE), Institut de cooperation pour l’éducation des adultes, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy, UNESCO, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning | Leave a comment

Literacy rates – an official indicator of poverty

On September 8th, 2020, International Literacy Day, Statistics Canada unveiled Canada’s Official Poverty Dashboard of Indicators. That Statistics Canada is tracking poverty is not new. What is new is the inclusion of literacy as one of the 12 indicators.

As Christine Pinsent-Johnson, who sent me the link, pointed out to me, this takes literacy out of the realm of the individual and into a structural analysis. This move bolsters the arguments we’ve been making for years – that literacy is more than reading and writing; it is at the core of healthy, vibrant and resilient democracies.

The full poverty reduction strategy is contained in Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy which was released in 2017.

The strategy outlines three pillars: Dignity, Opportunity and Inclusion, and resilience and security. Literacy indicators fall under the Opportunity and Inclusion pillar.

The Dimensions of Poverty Hub outlines the poverty strategy objectives and provides information on a few of the indicators. It gives literacy rates for 15-year olds and for adults age 16 – 65 based on the 2018 and 2015 PISA results and the 2012 PIAAC results.

The hub uses Level 2 PISA as the cut-0ff for low lilteracy skills for those 15  years old. it use for adult age 16 – 65 what appears to be the sum of those “Below Level 1” and “Level 1” PIAAC. That they didn’t use the “under level 3” trope is interesting.

The Dashboard only reports on the trend in young people’s literacy rates comparing 2018 to 2015. Hopefully the next international adult survey will give sufficient information to include trend lines for adults. Literacy and numeracy rates for 15-year olds are depicted in red on the dashboard since the numbers at this level are growing.

I feel the inclusion of literacy and numeracy in the poverty reduction strategy is a big deal for the literacy community. We no longer have to beg for a seat at the table now that literacy is seen as one of the 12 indicators of Canada’s success at reducing poverty. It also speaks to the structural nature of literacy and to the need for structural responses.

I’d encourage people to take a look at the material and website. Now is the time to embed yourself in this critical exercise.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, Federal Government and Literacy, Poverty Reduction Strategy, Sustainable Development Goals | Leave a comment

Happy International Literacy Day!

It’s International Literacy Day today, a time to recognize the importance of literacy to our daily lives and to appreciate the efforts of learners and practitioners who strive to improve skills needed to fully participate at home, at work and in the community.

This year finds literacy organizations across the country working hard to find innovative ways to serve learners during the pandemic. Many of us have turned to online tools to communicate during the pandemic. So too have literacy groups risen to the challenge of mounting online learning. However, this move is not without its challenges.

AlphaPlus posted a piece on digital literacy which is explores some of those challenges   When the Digital Divides Us: International Literacy Day is a Time for Action .

The ongoing crisis has laid bare the digital inequities that have long existed in Canada where income, age, race, education level, and where you live impact digital connectivity, online engagement and opportunities to leverage expertise.

The Yamaska Literacy Council is living the impact of these inequities every day as they try to continue to serve learners. As Executive Director, Wendy Seys, puts it:

It’s a fundamental shift to reach a population that faces multiple barriers to participating in remote learning. It’s clear that no one solution will work for all learners, so we must advocate for, support and adapt so that adults with low literacy are not left behind.

The pandemic has exposed the inequalities faced by many in this country while it has also shone a light on the literacy community’s capacity to innovate. Let’s hope that this International Literacy Day will be the spark needed to close the digital divide.

Posted in AlphaPlus, International Literacy Day, Yamaska Literacy Council | 2 Comments

Reach Out 4 Mental Health

I’m sharing a message from Joanne Kaattari, Co-Executive Director of Community Literacy Ontario about an upcoming initiative to raise awareness of mental health.

Hello to my colleagues across the country!

I wanted to let you all know about a small but important initiative for mental health that we are involved with. I hope you will join us!

As you are aware, Covid-19 is having far-reaching social, economic and emotional impacts.

While Ontario’s Literacy and Basic Skills agencies are accustomed to working with vulnerable individuals, the pandemic has increased the number of people who feel vulnerable and stressed at a time when access to services, that might usually be available to support mental health challenges, are reduced.

The adult literacy community has long been known as more than just a collection of organizations that teach people basic skills. Rather, we have a reputation for caring about the entire person – not just their learning curve. And mental health is a significant part of our lives and something we all need to promote and nourish – for learners, for staff, for volunteers, for friends and family, and for our communities.

We know this is true across the entire country!

A small group of literacy networks, Community Literacy of Ontario (CLO), Literacy Link South Central (LLSC), Literacy Northwest (LNW) and QUILL Learning Network, have decided to share resources and raise awareness of mental health via a 21-day social media campaign called “Reach Out for Mental Health”.

We hope we can count on your organization to participate in this campaign! Our goal is to shine a spotlight on mental health through key messages shared on social media:

  • Mental health is everyone’s business
  • There are resources available
  • Reach out to community and online supports if you feel your mental health is flagging or if you’re going through a rough patch
  • Try some positive strategies to improve your mental health

Our campaign will launch on September 1st and end on September 21, 2020.

Be sure to save the date!

During this 21-day period, CLO, LLSC, LNW and QUILL will create daily social media posts under the hashtag #ReachOut4MentalHealth. Watch for our social media messages at these accounts:

Come September, we hope you will like or share our posts and tweets AND create your own that are meaningful to the community you serve.

If you create your own social media content (and we hope you will!), please use the hashtag #ReachOut4MentalHealth to keep all the social media posts and Tweets connected.

While this campaign was envisioned by the Ontario literacy community, it is an important topic for all of us, and we warmly invite community partners from across Canada and from outside of literacy to join us for three weeks of sharing mental health resources. Please see for more information.

Thank you for supporting this important social media campaign and for “reaching out” to support mental health.

See you in September I hope!

Joanne Kaattari  | Co-Executive Director | | 80 Bradford St, #508, Barrie, ON  L4N 6S7 |

Posted in Community Literacy Ontario | Leave a comment

Making the case that literacy is a basic right

I’ve been meaning to write about an interesting legal case that took place in the United States.

The case argued the Detroit public school system deprived children of their basic right to literacy. According to reports, the school system there employs unqualified substitutes and uses textbooks that are decades old or non-existent. The physical schools are in disrepair.

The argument is that these conditions deny the children their basic right to literacy “in violation of the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The suit, Gary B. v. Whitmer, states, “without access to basic literacy skills, citizens cannot engage in knowledgeable and informed voting,” cannot exercise “their right to engage in political speech” under the First Amendment, and cannot enjoy their “constitutionally protected access to the judicial system … including the retention of an attorney and the receipt of notice sufficient to satisfy due process.”[1]

In the US, negotiating and defining rights is typically done through the courts. Apparently in 1973, the Court ruled the US Constitution does not guarantee a right to education. Initially the right to literacy case was turned down, but an appeals court panel ruled on April 23, 2020 that “basic literacy is ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,’ and central to ‘the basic exercise of other fundamental rights,’ including political participation.[2]

However, weeks later on May 19th, the full appeals court overthrew the decision, a rare but legal move.

The State of Michigan had already settled with a monetary payout to seven student plaintiffs, funds for community school literacy programs in Detroit and $94.4 million for literacy efforts in Detroit schools. The latter element of the settlement requires legislation which will likely get caught up in partisan politics. The State will also set up taskforces to evaluate equality progress and monitor the education system. This settlement stands even though the decision was overthrown.

At the end of the day, no legal precedent exists for the right to basic literacy in the US.

Often in Canada we argue that literacy is a basic human right. Yet, as far as I know, there’s never been a judicial challenge to this effect. Several times, private members bills have been introduced in Parliament. Mac Harb for instance introduced one in the 1990s, but none has been passed.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4 calls for quality education as the foundation for improving people’s lives and sustainable development although it stops short of positioning education or literacy as a basic right. Canada supports this goal.

It might be time for the literacy community to consider advocating for literacy as a basic human right. While the court case in the US was ultimately overturned, it built a strong case. The UN SDG also reinforces the centrality of education. Perhaps in these nuggets lies a path for us to follow here in Canada.

[1] Tang, Aaron. “What If the Court Saw Other Rights as Generously as Gun Rights?” The Atlantic. March 7, 2020.

[2] Albanese, Andrew. “Federal Appeals Court Declares Literacy a Constitutional Right.” Publishers Weekly. April 23, 2020.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Federal Government and Literacy, Human Rights, Literacy - United States, Sustainable Development Goals | Leave a comment

COFA Publication – Skills for the 21st Century

One of the many casualties of the withdrawal of support for coordination and information sharing at the federal level has been literacy publications. This gap has affected everyone, and programs are the poorer for not being able to learn about innovations in other parts of the country. A significant gap has been the lack of a way for francophone Canada to speak with Anglophone Canada.

Our friends at the Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA) have produced a resource that helps bridge those gaps. COFA published a special edition of its magazine Perfectio and has generously translated it into English.

While many of the articles are targeted to the Ontario literacy community, I think people right across the country will find them of interest. The section covering essential, generic and language skills discusses how best to articulate skills at a time when the federal government is reviewing its Essential Skills Framework. Several articles address how to best make use of digital skills and tools, a timely topic during this pandemic.

Two articles attracted my attention. The first is a summary of the report Influences: Lessons from Policy and Practices in Literacy and Essential Skills in Canada 1990-2019. Linda Shohet and Isabelle Coutant took a deep dive into how the Essential Skills Framework shaped practice in Canada. The other piece that spoke to me was Senator Diane Bellemare’s speech on the “fourth industrial revolution.” Senator Bellemare calls for a Canadian strategy for lifelong learning based on a common language for skills, shared and effective funding, and development of a culture of lifelong learning.

I’m certain you will find many of the articles interesting and timely. As well, the journal highlights the perspectives of francophone practitioners to which anglophone practitioners often do not have access.

Here are the links to the English and the French versions:

The special edition entitled “Soar” of Perfectio magazine is now available in English and on line at the following address:

L’édition spéciale intitulée « Essor » du revue Perfectio est maintenant disponible en ligne à l’adresse suivante :

Posted in Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA), Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Francophone literacy, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, Skills, Workplace Literacy | Leave a comment

John D. O’Leary Memorial Fund

John Daniel O’Leary’s family has set up a memorial fund with the Anishnawbe Health Foundation, where he was currently director of development. This will honour John at their new centre, which he was tirelessly raising money to help it get built. According to the family, he was so proud of the good work they are doing there.

Here’s the link to the memorial fund:

The family intends to have a funeral mass and memorial once we all get the public health green light.

Posted in Frontier College, John Daniel O'Leary, Literacy and Essential Skills, PGIs | Leave a comment

Another beautiful tribute to John O’Leary

I wanted to share with you a lovely tribute to John Daniel O’Leary created by his friend and former Frontier College President Jack Pearpoint: John Daniel O’Leary

Posted in Frontier College, John Daniel O'Leary, PGIs | Tagged | 2 Comments

In Memoriam – John Daniel O’Leary

John Daniel O’Leary passed away Tuesday April 14, 2020, the victim of a fire in his apartment.

John’s contribution to the literacy field was enormous. His vision of social justice led him to see literacy as a means to remove inequality in our society. He spent over 30 years at Frontier College, the last 17 years as President, a position he left in 2007. He developed many of the programs that still define Frontier today.

I first met John when I joined the National Literacy Secretariat in 1989. I recall a session with him where he wrote a sentence on the white board in Latin, taught us how to read and pronounce the sentence phonetically. Announced he had ‘taught us to read.’ The message he left with me that day was that literacy is more than knowing how to read – it’s what you understand, how you take the words and make them come alive, what you do with that knowledge, it’s reading the world not just the word. It was a message I have held to throughout my time working in literacy.

In 1991, he wrote Creating a Love of Reading for the NLS. This quote captures his voice:

Reading, writing and literacy mean far more than understanding words on paper. Literacy has a lot to do with enriching and discovering more about yourself, your personal dreams, ambitions and hopes — coming to understand that “sacred place inside.” Literacy also enables us to share this “sacred place” with others, either with an intimate friend or with the world, through “stories, songs, dances and art.” When you are reading or being read a favourite book, poem or story, the writer is sharing with you something of that “sacred place inside

John was part of most important Canadian literacy initiatives – ABC Canada, the Peter Gzowski Invitational Golf Tournaments for Literacy (the PGIs), the Business Task Force on Literacy, the Advisory Committee on Literacy and Essential Skills, to name only a few. His efforts were recognized with honourary degrees from Trent University and Carleton University.

Throughout my time at the National Literacy Secretariat, John was ever present, advocating for literacy, pushing the envelop, always with that steady voice of his. I listened today to his acceptance speech when receiving the honourary doctorate from Carleton. He delivered it virtually as he was in a care facility battling conditions that befell him later in life. It’s worth listening to: John Daniel O’Leary – Carleton University honourary degree

In 2018, John ran the Terry Fox Run, two years after having his left leg amputated to save his life. John ends his blog post (Two Words You Never Want to Hear) about his journey from hospital bed to running a 10K, with a poem honouring Terry Fox. Today, I honour John with the same poem by Stephen Spender:

I think continually of those who were truly great.

The names of those who in their lives fought for life

Who wore at their heart the fire’s center.

Born of the sun, they travelled a short while towards the sun,

And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Posted in ABC Canada, Federal Government and Literacy, Frontier College, John Daniel O'Leary, literacies, Literacy and Essential Skills, National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), PGIs | 22 Comments