CBC The Cost of Living & Literacy

An episode of CBC Radio’s The Cost of Living aired on Sunday January 17th featured a segment on adult literacy. The link to the segment was shared online along with a longer more in-depth article (Low literacy in Canada is affecting both democracy and the economy)

The report by Falice Chin struck most of the right notes. The focus was primarily on native born Canadians and the impact of low literacy skills on the economy. The comments provided by Michael Burt of the Conference Board were bang on. He pointed out “traditional” Canadian jobs (mining, forestry, oil) did not require high levels of literacy skills. These “high risk, low mobility” jobs are disappearing as the country moves into a knowledge-based economy. In addition, good points were made about how skills atrophy when not used; how low skilled jobs often paid well (think Alberta oil patch), which was not an issue unless the economy changed; and the need for non-technical skills such as problem-solving.

Highlighting Eddy Piché’s story brought this reality to life. Low literacy skills led him to work for most of his life in jobs where he didn’t need to read. Transitioning to a more fulfilling job as a social worker required increased literacy skills. He was able to gain those skills with the help of volunteers from Project Adult Literacy Society (PALS) in Edmonton. Eddy’s story also highlighted how people avoid reading tasks, use supports such as spouses to assist with reading tasks and live with the possibility of being called ‘stupid’ hanging over their heads. The story avoids ‘blaming the victim’ and credits Eddy’s other skills such as problem-solving. I loved this quote from PALS Executive Director, Monica Das,

“People forget to realize that this adult has been able to support himself all this time without someone else knowing that he can’t read or write. You should appreciate the amount of skills that this person has.”

The written article included a piece on how poor literacy skills can affect participation in democratic processes. However, during the radio show, this segment was aired before the literacy segment and so the connection was not as clearly made as it is in the article.

I did have a few issues with the radio segment and the article. For a definition of who is and who isn’t literate, the author uses education levels, that is, high school completion rather than describing PIAAC levels, as in “nearly half of Canadians have a literacy level below high school.” She is obviously considering level 3 as high school completion.

She does it again in what is otherwise an excellent point:

“In short, literacy is not like riding a bike. While Canadians tend to leave the high school level with these skills, it takes practice to retain them and Canada’s economy does not provide the opportunity to do that for many workers.”

She also indicates that PIAAC showed “that many in this country are unable to complete ordinary tasks, such as filling out a job application, reading a news article or sending an email.” I know someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall ever seeing these activities (or any for that matter since the survey instrument is restricted) listed as PIAAC tasks.

I understand that the PIAAC definition of literacy is hard to explain and so people do lean towards using more commonly understood metaphors – high school completion, function literacy, illiteracy – all of which are used in the article. We really do need to come up with better descriptions when using PIAAC data so people can understand what we mean and what we do not mean by literacy without resorting to false analogies like high school completion or everyone needs level 3. If literacy is understood to be fluid depending on the context, the person’s lived experiences, the ease of readability of documents etc., we ought to be able to supply journalists and others with understandable and accurate descriptions.

As P.T Barnum said, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” The radio segment and article do, in the main, provide a good overview of literacy in Canada, especially as it relates to jobs and training. It is worth sharing as long as you are aware of its few shortcomings.


Posted in CBC Cost of Living, Conference Board of Canada, Literacy, PIAAC, Project Adult Literacy Society (PALS), Skills, Workforce Development | Leave a comment

Who gets OLES funding…

In my last post, I wrote about the overall funding spent by the federal government’s Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES). OLES can spend money under the Adult Learning Literacy and Essential Skills Program (ALLESP) as well as having access to EI Part II funds.

OLES has not held an open call for proposals under ALLESP since 2015. More recently, I’ve heard that OLES has contacted a few organizations directly to invite them to apply for projects on subjects apparently chosen by OLES. It’s not clear why or how these groups were chosen to be contacted.

Tracking what is funded under ALLESP is a challenge. The database on the OLES website has not been updated since 2010. In 2019, OLES published the Essential Skills Playbook listing 101 projects funded over 13 years beginning with fiscal year 2007-08. Of these, 6 were funded through a procurement process and 73 were funded by OLES directly with the rest likely funded through EI Part II or were under $100,000. But the list was certainly not 100% of funded projects over those years.

To find out who has been funded and for how much, I usually look at Public Accounts which gives the amount of money paid out in any specific year. However, Public Accounts does not provide information on the overall project amount or the description of the project.

The federal government’s Open Government Dataset is supposed to contain all grants and contributions. However, by my count, over the past 4 years, only 35% of ALLESP projects listed in Public Accounts appear in the Open Government Dataset. I do not know how or who updates that dataset

ALLESP funded projects have large budgets. Since fiscal year 2016-17 until last fiscal year, the average size of payments is $1,397,067.

About a third of the projects are run by national organizations. The others are based in every province and territory except Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and NWT (although it should be noted that several of these projects involve partners located in other provinces/territories).

During this same period, 51 organizations received project funding from ALLESP. 12% received funds in all four fiscal years while over 30% received funds in 3 fiscal years. Many of the organizations are not what you would consider solely literacy groups and several are also Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Skills agreement holders which provides ongoing funding.

Without project descriptions it’s difficult to see how the projects contribute to literacy and essential skills or what others might learn from the projects. Even after visiting the websites of some of the organizations, I could not determine what the project was about or even that they had a project.

I feel it is important that anyone involved in literacy should know about these projects and be able to contribute to them or learn from their experiences. While OLES has brought together project recipients (back when in-person meetings were possible), information gathered at those sessions has not been widely shared.

We need more transparency. We need to know what is happening in these projects so that we can take advantage of the knowledge gained. We need to understand how OLES determines who gets funded and why.


Posted in Federal Government and Literacy, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) | 1 Comment

OLES hits 100% spending in 2019-2020

This past fiscal year, the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) spent 100% of its approved budget under the Adult Learning Literacy and Essential Skills Program (ALLESP). This is the first time since 2002-2003 that all the money approved by Parliament has been spent.

Of course, in 2002-2003, just under $33,000,000 was spent. In 2019-2020, only $23.4 million was available to spend.

Since 2016-2017, the Liberal government has steadily increased the percentage spent of the total budget from 47% to 100%.

Each year the report Public Accounts lists the grants and contributions payments made under the ALLESP. This means that the amounts provided indicate only what was paid to the organization and not necessarily the total value of the grant or contribution. This list is the most accurate list of funded projects. 35 organizations received funds only one of which was given as a grant (Institute for Research on Public Policy).

ABC Canada Literacy Foundation, Toronto, Ontario316,146
Aboriginal Community Career Services Society, West Vancouver, British Columbia1,602,768
Alberta Rural Development Network, Sherwood Park, Alberta397,564
BC Construction Industry Skills Improvement Council, Burnaby, British Columbia585,483
Biotalent Canada, Ottawa, Ontario359,212
Blueprint-ADE, Toronto, Ontario788,875
BuildForce Canada, Ottawa, Ontario1,360,813
Bow Valley College, Calgary, Alberta569,828
Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes, Ottawa, Ontario900,722
Community Business Development Corporation Restigouche, Campbellton, New Brunswick1,036,560
Decoda Literacy Solutions, Vancouver, British Columbia662,622
Environmental Careers Organization of Canada, Calgary, Alberta1,033,637
Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium of Canada, Owen Sound, Ontario914,973
Frontier College, Toronto, Ontario137,322
Government of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick1,783,699
Government of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island465,981
Institute for Research on Public Policy, Montréal, Quebec105,000
ITANS Information Technology Industry Alliance of Nova Scotia, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia947,138
Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services, Thunder Bay, Ontario1,101,459
LearnSphere Canada Inc, Fredericton, New Brunswick711,043
Louis Riel Institute, Winnipeg, Manitoba562,658
Mining Industry Human Resources Council, Ottawa, Ontario541,356
NEC Native Education College, Vancouver, British Columbia398,728
NorQuest College, Edmonton, Alberta538,440
Nunavut Literacy Council, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut120,583
Ottawa Chinese Community Centre, Ottawa, Ontario912,961
PTP Adult Learning and Employment Programs, Toronto, Ontario586,158
Réseau pour le développement de l’alphabétisme et des compétences, Ottawa, Ontario1,000,000
Saint John Learning Exchange, Saint John, New Brunswick127,964
Skanehionkwaioteh Incorporated, Ohsweken, Ontario814,340
Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, Ottawa, Ontario591,176
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario276,218
Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation, Enoch, Alberta543,316
Young Women’s Christian Association of Canada, Toronto, Ontario554,181
Payment under $100,000 (1)23,636
Posted in Federal Government and Literacy, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) | 2 Comments

Future Skills Council report to the Minister

The Future Skills Council (not to be confused with the Future Skills Centre) presented its report Canada – A Learning Nation: A Skilled, Agile Workforce Ready to Shape the Future to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough on November 25, 2020.

The Council comprises representatives from the public and private sectors, labour, Indigenous groups, and not-for-profit organizations. Its mandate is to provide advice to the minister on emerging skills and workforce trends. (See https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/future-skills/council.html for more details about the Council)

The report identifies five priorities:

  1. Helping Canadians make informed choices
  2. Equality of opportunity for lifelong learning
  3. Skills development to support Indigenous self-determination
  4. New and innovative approaches to skills development and validation
  5. Skills development for sustainable futures

Presumably, the recommended actions are aimed at the federal government. The report skims over any potential jurisdictional tussles with the provinces and territories.

The report itself runs through much of what we already know about workforce development and employability. For example, the report calls for user centred design, replications of best practices, wrap-around supports and reducing the digital divide. While there is not much new in the report, if the government of Canada were even to implement half of the recommendations it would be a step in the right direction.

The report makes no mention of literacy but does speak to the issue of ‘foundational’ skills – communication, teamwork, critical thinking, creativity and problem solving and acknowledges that many organizations are using or adapting the federal government’s Essential Skills Framework. The report calls for efforts to define these skills in partnership with all the workplace partners.

Because of my many years promoting workplace literacy, I was pleased to see the report underscore Canadians desire to learn in the workplace. Offering employer-sponsored training requires finding ways to support both the operational and financial costs, particularly for small and medium sized enterprises, and so the report recommends:

  • Modernize labour legislation to support lifelong learning:

The federal government could work with interested provinces and territories, as well as business and labour organizations, to establish a consistent framework of standards for how individuals can take time from work to participate in training and other skills development activities.

  • Use broader range of fiscal tools to support training and skills development:

Increase tax deductions, tuition rebates and other forms of funding to reduce up-front financial barriers. Focus on helping Canadians with lower incomes and those in more precarious work situations.

The fourth priority area “Promote, enable and validate skills development and training in all their diverse forms” has several recommendations that caught my attention:

    • Development and use of micro-credentials
    • Resources to support the deployment and scaling of promising practices – something desperately needed in this country of ‘pilot projects’
    • Greater collaboration between employers and training providers which of course requires all provincial/territorial governments to permit and support literacy organizations to offer programs in the workplace
    • Expand use of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) – this is certainly well overdue since PLAR has been around for over 30 years

The report speaks to the possibility of creating a single skills recognition platform. While no details are presented, it seems to me that the council might be thinking of national systems such as the NVQ in the UK, the NZAQ in New Zealand, or the AQF in Australia. All these systems articulate learning outcomes for each level and qualification type. These systems allow for qualifications to be gain in a variety of ways including in the workplace. In the case of the UK, there is a connection to jobs as well.

I’ve heard talk over the years about whether Canada should these other Commonwealth countries’ lead and develop a qualification system. Before going too far down this road in Canada, we need to have a national conversation on the pros and cons of such a system. Qualifications frameworks can inject a level of comparability between credentials as well as acknowledging the multiple means of gaining qualifications. But some of the literature indicates that employer buy-in is weak and some perceive it as governmental overstep.

One final point. The federal government has a long history of supporting workforce development advisory groups made up of labour market partners (e.g. Canadian Labour Force Development Board, Canadian Labour and Business Centre, Workplace Skills Council) and a poor record of following any advice from these groups. Minister Qualtrough can change that record.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Future Skills Council, Labour Market Information, Literacy and Essential Skills, Skills, Workforce Development, Workplace Literacy | Leave a comment

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 : https://forms.gle/sbmvKPTxi45jaNNz9

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 dbaril@icea.qc.ca or Isabelle Levert-Chiasson, Education Programme Officer at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO at isabelle.levert-chiasson@ccunesco.ca.



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 : https://forms.gle/7vi7UQzcL6FWodCU9

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 dbaril@icea.qc.ca ou Isabelle Levert-Chiasson, chargée de programme éducation à la Commission canadienne pour l’UNESCO à isabelle.levert-chiasson@ccunesco.ca .

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 http://www.communityliteracyofontario.ca/wp/wp-content/uploads/Reach-Out-4-Mental-Health-Campaign-Info-Aug-2020.pdf 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 | kaattari@bellnet.ca | 80 Bradford St, #508, Barrie, ON  L4N 6S7 |  www.communityliteracyofontario.ca

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. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/court-gun-rights-education-rights/607552/

[2] Albanese, Andrew. “Federal Appeals Court Declares Literacy a Constitutional Right.” Publishers Weekly. April 23, 2020. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/83143-federal-appeals-court-declares-literacy-a-constitutional-right.html?mc_cid=b1f252bd97&mc_eid=9b5361ff6d

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