Advocating Literacy

Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

0 0 5 September 2023

For many years UNESCO has been an advocate for literacy around the world. They declared September 8 as International Literacy Day back in 1967. In 2003, they led the United Nations Literacy Decade and launched the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment to achieve the Decade’s goals.

Their efforts were reflected around the world. Governments supported literacy development and implemented policies to promote literacy in their country. There was funding for research by practitioners and for resource development. Here in Canada, we had a National Literacy Secretariat that funded projects and organizations across the country, and we had Senator Joyce Fairbairn from Alberta who was made Minister with Special Responsibility for Literacy in 1993. However, government policy began to change around the world with a different emphasis on economics which moved literacy off the political agenda.

At the international level, UNESCO continued to work for the cause of literacy. Recently, they updated their definition of literacy that goes beyond just reading and writing to include how we use our literacy skills in our daily lives to get things done. They continue to promote the importance of literacy and advance the literacy agenda, and every year they announce a theme for International Literacy Day.

The theme for this year is “Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies.” This theme emerges from the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are tied to the 2030 Global Agenda on Sustainable Development. Based on SDG4, literacy is facing persistent and challenging issues related to equity, inclusion, and equality.

An ongoing challenge for advancing the literacy agenda is having messages that resonate with government policy makers and society be more involved in promoting literacy. This year as I read the Concept note for International Literacy Day, I was struck by their bold statements and call for action, and found some key messages we can use to advance the literacy agenda.

[untitled]UNESCO stated that "not only intensified efforts but also radical changes in our thinking, approaches, and action" will improve literacy skills around the world. Literacy is essential to equip individuals with "relevant knowledge, skills, and competencies," transform education, and shape more "sustainable and peaceful societies." The hope is that literacy will be seen as a way for reinforcing and adjusting paths for the future.

We know that literacy empowers people and improves their self-esteem. It also improves their creativity and critical thinking. People need to acquire knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values to thrive in our rapidly changing society. UNESCO states that

"…literacy contributes not only to generating personal benefits, such as better well-being and economic conditions, but also social, economic, political, cultural, and environmental ones. Evidence shows, for instance, that literacy programmes help enhance democratic values, peaceful coexistence, and community solidarity. By empowering people, especially through a critical and emancipatory approach, literacy can help them ‘to engage and assume active roles both locally and globally to face and resolve global challenges’ and to become an agent for transformation for more sustainable and peaceful societies…
More broadly, there is a need for fostering a culture of lifelong learning, which facilitates intensified interactions between individuals, communities and social institutions… It is demand-driven, human-centered policies, programmes, and practices that can harness the transformative power of literacy.” (Concept notes for ILD 2023)

For me, these are broad but bold statements that positions literacy at the centre of transforming our society. But what does this mean for you in your CALP organization? How does this affect the work you are doing?

[untitled] We can use these bold statements to promote literacy in our communities about the transformative nature of literacy. We can show organizations, businesses, and leaders how literacy can help individuals in the community face and resolve local issues. What are some challenges in your community that could be resolved if there was a focus on meeting the literacy needs of individuals? Are there literacy practices that organizations and businesses could use to better serve the community? Look for key messages from the concept paper that you can use when you talk with people in your community.

 There are also other resources and support to help you develop and share your key messages with your community.

Resources on the Portal:

  • Stepping into Community - handbook of practical processes, strategies and resources written to strengthen your knowledge and confidence in building stronger connections within communities and to support your work towards achieving the CALP vision and outcomes.
  • Opening Doors: A Literacy Audit Tool Kit - includes stories of adults whose lives were changed by literacy that you can share to raise awareness of literacy, as well as suggestions and ideas for promoting literacy in your community. The Literacy Audit can support organizations and businesses to learn how literacy-friendly they are and ways to be more literacy-friendly.
  • Digital Literacy Audit Tool – can be used to promote equitable access to services within an organization or business.
  • Opening Doors: A Literacy Audit Tool Kit for Customer Service Excellence (2008) - links to short video clips of learners sharing their learning journey that can be used to promote literacy.
  • Advocacy 101 – Emily Robinson Leclair posted a great blog about the role of advocacy with links to other resources
  • The Case for Literacy – Brigid Hayes, former senior government policy advisor and literacy advisor, shares a report about the Case for Literacy in Alberta and the response from Nancy Purdy from Calgary Learns

Trainings & Events: (Check the Portal Training & Events calendar to register)

  • Connecting CALP to Community – series of workshops to learn how to connect with your community and promote your organization. Watch the Training & Events calendar for when to register.
  • Literacy Practitioners Share, Learn, Grow - this is an informal group that meets online to bring together voices throughout the province who have a passion for literacy and who want to connect with other like-minded people.
  • Regional Connections Café – talk with other CALP staff in your region for ideas on key messages.
  • Ask us Anything about Metis & Indigenous Worldview – opportunity to increase understanding of Metis & Indigenous ways of knowing and learning that can guide the development of key messages.

People to talk to:

  • Your RSS or PD Provider
  • Rebecca Still – Literacy Specialist
  • Lori St Cyr – Métis & Indigenous Liaison
  • CALP practitioners in your region or throughout the province


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