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Four out of ten adult Canadians, age sixteen to sixty-five

- representing 9 million Canadians -

struggle with low literacy. They fall below level 3 (high school completion) on the prose literacy scale. 

What does this mean in practical terms? If you were a student of our community-based council, you may not be able to:

            Read and understand how everyday information applies to you

           Read your bank statement

            Understand your telephone bill

            Read your prescriptions, or those of someone you are caring for – even your children

            Understand ingredients on your food packages

            Figure out if you have received the correct change

            Stand up for your legal rights

Apply for a job on line; write and send your resume...or perhaps even how turn on a computer

You would find it hard to ask for help – that would mean admitting you may not be able to read, or you can’t cope with the menu options on a telephone, or that you are afraid of repeating the experiences you had when you were in school. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! The Barrie Literacy Council has helped over 1500 adults and treats each one as the valuable individual you are. In fact, last year, 16,000 hours were spent helping students. Our tutors, volunteers and staff are dedicated to helping you reach your educational goals, independence goals, or assist you on the path to employment.



The following link gives an excellent synopsis of why the Adult Literacy Issue matters to our community

Low literacy skills affect every aspect of a person’s life; family relationships, ability to get a job and be a contributing member of the community. The following information is courtesy of ABC Life Literacy Canada.

Adult literacy is often measured on a prose and document literacy scale of 1 to 5. Level 3, equivalent to high school completion, is the desired threshold for coping with the rapidly changing skill demands of a knowledge-based economy and society (International Survey of Reading Skills (ISRS), 2005)

Four out of 10 adult Canadians, age 16 to 65 - representing 9 million Canadians - struggle with low literacy. They fall below level 3 on the prose literacy scale (Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey, Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005).

Considering those adult Canadians with low literacy, 15 per cent have serious problems dealing with any printed materials; an additional 27 per cent can only deal with simple reading tasks (Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2005).

The Adult Literacy Issue

  • In 2003, about 62% of employed Canadians between the ages of 16 and 65 had average scores in the document domain at Level 3 or above (International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS): Building on our competencies, 2003).
  • In 2003, nearly 3.1 million Canadians aged 16 to 65 were at proficiency Level 1 on the prose literacy scale (below middle school skills), while another 5.8 million were at Level 2 (below high school skills) (International Survey of Reading Skills (ISRS), 2005).
  • Less than half of those who contact a literacy organization actually enroll in a program and of those who enroll, 30 per cent drop out (Patterns of Participation in Canadian Literacy and Upgrading Programs*, ABC CANADA in partnership with Literacy BC, 2001).
  • Less than 10 per cent of Canadians who could benefit from literacy upgrading programs actually enroll. Research indicates that barriers like job or money problems, lack of childcare and transportation are some of the reasons that prevent people from enrolling (Who Wants to Learn? ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation, 2001).

Literacy Across Canada

  • Newfoundland and Labrador, PEI, New Brunswick, Quebec and Nunavut have more people with low literacy than the national average. Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have fewer people with low literacy (International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), Statistics Canada, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and the US National Center for Education Statistics, 2005).
  • While the performance of the three western provinces is relatively better than in other regions of the country, four out of 10 people in those provinces still fall in the low-literacy range (International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), 2003).
  • Sixty per cent of immigrants have low literacy, compared with 37 per cent of native-born Canadians (International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), 2003).
  • In New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, Francophones have lower average prose literacy scores than Anglophones (Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey, 2003).


Literacy Impacts Lives


  • People with low proficiency in literacy tend to have lower rates of employment, and they tend to work in occupations with lower skill requirements.
  • Over one-half of unemployed Canadians age 16-65 have document literacy scores below Level 3.
  • About 57% of adults aged 16 to 65 at Level 1 were employed compared to more than 80% of those who scored at Level 4/5, the highest. The survey found a noticeable increase in the employment rate even between individuals in Levels 1 and 2, the two lowest proficiency levels. About 70% of individuals at Level 2 were employed.
  • In the territories and British Columbia, there was a large difference in employment rates by literacy level. Over 90% of those at Level 4/5 were employed in the territories compared to 50% of those at Level 1. In British Columbia the rates were 81% and 47% respectively.


  • Just under a third of men earning at least $60,000 a year are at the highest level of prose proficiency, compared to 15% among those earning less than $20,000.
  • About one-half of women with annual earnings of $60,000 or more were at the highest level of prose literacy, compared with 19% who earned less than $20,000.
  • A much higher proportion of men than women who were earning at least $60,000 a year were at the lowest levels of literacy. One in four men were at this level, but fewer than one in ten women.


  • Those aged 16 to 65 who reported being in poor physical health scored lower in document literacy than did those reporting better health.
  • In each of the provinces and territories, with the exception of the Yukon, about half of all seniors (older than 65) reported being in poor physical health. In each jurisdiction, the average document literacy score of seniors reporting poor health was at Level 1.
  • Given that about half of all seniors reported being in poor physical health and that they scored at the lowest level of proficiency there may be serious implications for their overall quality of life.
  • Higher levels of prose literacy are associated with higher levels of involvement in various community groups and organizations and in volunteer activities. Half of all respondents at the lowest level of prose literacy proficiency, compared with one in five at the highest, reported that they were not involved in any of the community activities measured by the IALSS.
  • An understanding of medical dosages means fewer mistakes and interventions. Greater individual autonomy, including among seniors, means less reliance on health-givers. As fewer resources are needed, the cost of the healthcare system is likely to decline.


  • Literacy proficiency improves chances of employment, builds self-confidence and enables discussions and actions that affect the welfare of individuals and their community.
  • Greater understanding of social and political issues means a more informed opinion at the ballot box, better understanding of issues, and greater confidence in discussing them. This, in turn, encourages leadership and engagement in public debate.

*Statistics retrieved from International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS): Building on our competencies, 2003.







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