Our lives can be transformed and changed by countless factors; who we know, what we like, where we have been, our education, and different encounters which changed the way we look at ourselves and the world. These are all things that help us define who we are and what we believe in. With all these emotional factors, it is easy to lose sight of other elements which play an important role in determining not only who we are, but also how we live our lives. One such element is our level of literacy. The ability to read and write is a crucial component which helps us in every aspect of our lives, be it finding a better paying job and staying informed or performing simple acts of our everyday lives, like reading a prescription or a bus schedule. This text will focus on the history of literacy in Canada, including the contemporary situation.
Since its creation under the name of New France, Canada created an education system, through the years, that has faced many mutations. Education, which promoted literacy, was almost non-existent when the nation first established itself before becoming an area almost exclusively reserved for ecclesiastical members. Later on during the 18th and 19th century, education changed; it went from being managed by the family to a more direct approach with the establishment of numerous schools and the emergence of the modern school system structure (The Canadian Encyclopedia). With time, more and more people saw school as a place of learning and formation and school systems became more structured.
Sadly enough, though we have a good understanding of Canada's development in the field of education, it was not until 1987 that a survey on Canadian literacy was conducted. This survey showed the poor state of Canada's literacy with one quarter of the population being illiterate. Two years after this survey, Statistics Canada released another study which separated Canadians within 5 levels, level 1 being the lowest proficiency level and level 3 being considered the minimum needed for someone to successfully function in today's society (The Canadian Encyclopedia). It was proven that forty-one percent of literate Canadians were either at level 1 and 2 or below (Government of Canada). In other words, nearly half the population had either only basic skills or they experienced difficulties with common reading materials! Two other multi-language adult literacy assessments were conducted by the National Literacy Secretariat, Human Resources Development Canada, and Statistics Canada in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO in both 1994 and 2003. What these surveys discovered is that adult literacy has changed very little during the previous years (The Canadian Encyclopedia), meaning that from 1989 to 2003, adult literacy barely fluctuated in any way.
Literacy skills nowadays have a great impact on all strata of our lives. To cite only a few examples, literacy enables you to write messages, to read and understand information and warning labels. It helps you make healthier choices or understand doctors' information, and of course finding and qualifying for jobs and promotions (The Big Picture Literacy in Canada p.14-16)
Our contemporary situation has degraded since the last assessment conducted in 2003. In 2012, forty-eight point five percent of Canada's citizens, aged from 16 to 65, where either at level 1 and 2 or below. Level 3 literacy dropped by three percent and level 4 and 5 by four percent while level 1 grew by three percent and level 2 by five percent (Government of Canada). These numbers represent an augmentation of around 3.5 million citizens who do not qualify for what is believed to by the required minimum in order to successfully interact in society (Annual Estimates of Population for Canada).
In 2012, Anglophones also exhibited somewhat better literacy proficiency than Francophones and the average literacy skills was almost the same for both women and men. For their part, aboriginal people rarely reached level 3 or higher with an average forty point three percent, compared to non-aboriginal Canadians with fifty-one point nine percent. Immigrants, both recent and established, also showed fairly low levels of literacy with an average of thirty-seven percent being at level 3 or above (Government of Canada). While immigrants' literacy level is lower than Canadians and Aboriginals they still are more educated than in the past. Also, they might well be literate in another language but do not have French or English as their main language (The Big Picture Literacy in Canada p.9)
As previously mentioned, the literacy of today plays a great part on our level of education and employment. Fifty percent of Canadians possessing level 1 literacy skills have never finished high school and only twenty percent have proceeded to post-secondary education. On the other hand, twenty-eight percent of the Canadians possessing level 2 literary skills never obtained a high school diploma and thirty-five percent of them continued their education after high school. Level 2 Canadians also have higher chances of finding employment than the level 1 Canadians (The Big Picture Literacy in Canada p.25-26). By looking at these estimates, we can see that a higher level of proficiency in literacy augments your chances of further pursuing your education and landing a job.
Canada's recorded literacy history is fairly short, but the findings have allowed us to gain a basic understanding of the different levels of literacy and how Canada's population fares within each of them. It is somewhat frightening to see how little Canadians, aboriginal people, and immigrants can actually use or understand either French or English. What is also truly preoccupying is the fact that our literacy skills have decreased during the last few years, even more so when you consider the importance that those skills represent in our daily lives. I hope this situation will be addressed with all the due attention it deserves since it concerns and influences the life of every Canadian citizen.
Gaffield, Chad. History of Education. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 15 July 2013. Web.
Tuinman, J.J. Jones, Stan. Bailey, Patricia G. Literacy. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2 May 2012. Web.
Hardwood, Chris. The Big Picture, Literacy in Canada. Literacy.ca. April 2012. Powepoint.
Government of Canada. 01 February 2016. Web.