Citizenship, social cohesion and literacy

I ran across an article from some time ago making the case for a link between literacy levels and active citizenship. Given some of the conditions being faced in the world today, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the findings.

“Active citizenship and non-work related aspects of PIAAC” was published in Elm, European Lifelong Learning Magazine, on March 28, 2014 (

While much of the focus placed on Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) related to information about labour market and employment outcomes, this article outlines the impacts of lifelong long learning. First, it reminds us of what PIAAC said about citizenship and democracy:

Trust is the bedrock of democracy. Without trust in others and in the rule of law, all relationships, whether business, political or social, function less efficiently. The foundations of trust are established on three complementary levels: trust as an individual trait, trust as a relationship, and trust as a cultural rule (Sztompka, 1999). For an individual, certain skills may lead to trust in others. For example, key information-processing skills may enable people to understand better the motives and aspirations of others and the conditions under which these may be shown. Skills may also enable people to forge trust by fostering lasting relationships with the aim of accomplishing mutually rewarding outcomes” (OECD; 2013, p. 237 f)

PIAAC found that those with lower proficiency in literacy are less likely to trust others. In addition, those with lower proficiency levels say they have a low level of ‘political efficacy’ or the belief that they can make a difference.

Second, there appears to be a relationship between PIAAC skills and social cohesion. The authors state, “proficiency in skills may influence social (in)equality, social in- or exclusion and social cohesion, through the role of building trust in others who are or who are not like them (such as highly- or low-skilled person). “

Third, higher literacy skills are associated with civic engagement such as volunteering. The authors reference other studies that relate an increase in racial tolerance and a greater likelihood of voting with participation in adult education.

The authors conclude, “Participating in learning activities and increasing skills can provide a stable time framework, a community, a chance for re-orientation, a safe place, a new challenge, social recognition, and end up being an important tool for empowerment. Especially in times of crisis, literacy skills are necessary for tackling economic and societal challenges.”

This article makes the case for more, not less investment in adult education and lifelong learning, not just for economic or labour market objectives but to help foster a strong sense of social cohesion, community engagement, and active citizenship. Certainly a theme worth raising with public officials.


About Brigid Hayes

Brigid Hayes has developed an expertise in learning that spans almost 30 years as a senior policy advisor, program manager and partnership developer. Her knowledge of and experience in workplace literacy and learning has contributed to her recognition as an expert in this field, and she has undertaken significant activities to both help promote and enhance literacy and lifelong learning. Brigid works as an independent consultant and expert advisor on learning, literacy, and work. She has successfully developed a strategic planning and policy development practice involving workplace literacy, essential skills, partnership development, research, and evaluation.
This entry was posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Federal Government and Literacy, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy. Bookmark the permalink.

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