Canada's Illiteracy Crisis

Posted by pamela mccoll on Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Canada’s Illiteracy Crisis

Literacy is becoming a luxury item in Canada. Socio-economic status and race are two of the strongest determinants for Canadian illiteracy.

Please note that these are not statistics from a developing country. These are Canadian statistics:

  • 42 % of Canadians are semi-illiterate. For the past 15 years there has been scarcely any improvement in Canada's literacy rate (The National, 05/24/06).

  • Though many believe Canada is well equipped on the literacy front, the fact is that nearly half of all adults have low literacy levels, meaning they are ill-prepared for the current demands of our rapidly changing world (Canadian Council on Learning, President, Dr. Paul Cappon, from The Canadian Council on Learning's Prose Literacy Map, Sep 8, 2009).

  • By 2031, more than 15 million Canadian adults — three million more than today — will have low literacy levels. The number of Canadian adults with low literacy levels will increase 25 per cent in the next two decades, creating a "literacy dilemma" if the problem isn't addressed immediately (Canadian Council on Learning, The Future of Literacy in Canada's Largest Cities report, Sep 8, 2010).

  • People from poor families as well as the long-term unemployed, seniors, native people, prisoners, people with disabilities, and racial and cultural minorities all have higher rates of both illiteracy and poverty. Poverty has a direct link to illiteracy and vice versa(National Adult Literacy Database, Movement for Canadian Literacy, Literacy is for Life, Fact Sheet #9, Literacy and Poverty).

  • "Four in 10 high school youth have insufficient reading skills. Two in 10 university graduates, five in 10 adults, and six in 10 immigrants also have insufficient literacy skills… While both levels of government are engaged in literacy programs, there is little evidence that it is working. Canada is losing billions because of illiteracy." (Toronto Dominion Report – Literacy Matters, 2007).

  • In one small east-end Toronto school where students are mostly poor, only 8% of children passed the grade 10 literacy test. Children from 4 extremely affluent schools scored in the vicinity of 90% (NOW Magazine, March 22, 2001).

  • "22 per cent of university graduates do not achieve adequate scores on prose literacy …between 11 and 14 per cent of Canadian- born university graduates aged 26 to 55 have inadequate prose literacy." (TD Bank. Literacy Matters: A Call for Action . 2007)

  • "With health-literacy skills that are considered to be at level 2 and below (IALSS definition), 60% of adult Canadians lack the capacity to obtain, understand and act upon health information and services and to make appropriate health decisions on their own." (Canadian Council on Learning Health Literacy in Canada. 2007)

"The Canadian economy could enjoy a $32-billion boost if literacy rates were improved by only one per cent," says Craig Alexander, deputy chief economist of TD Bank Financial Group (2007).

As members of a grassroots literacy organization, our partners, directors, and volunteers appreciate this weighty challenge, but we are undaunted. The passion, vision, and success within the programs we support are inspiring.

Through its partners, the ELF has recognized that our simple and effective literacy programs are making profoundly positive changes in communities ready for growth. Canada needs vision, direction, and experience in order to initiate community development through literacy.


Literacy Volunteers of Quebec: Literacy Fact Sheets

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: Literacy and the Police:

CBC News, “Low Literacy Levels to increase 25% by 2031: Report”:

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, The Connection between Literacy and Work:

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