International Literacy Day - Tell Your Story

Posted: 5 September 2017

Author: Corrie Rhyasen Erdman, Community Learning Network

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On September 8, we celebrate International Literacy Day. This day was created in 1966 by the United Nations to bring attention to the importance of literacy around the globe.

Malala Yousafzai has a powerful personal story that she draws on to bring awareness of the gains and struggles of literacy for marginalized people. Malala is one of my heroes. She is a 20 year old Pakistani activist who survived an attempted assassination by the Taliban because of her determination to make education accessible to women and girls in her community and continues to fight for education as a human right for all people.

Looking closer to home, there are people in Canada who are missing basic skills to meet the increasing literacy demands in their everyday lives. In fact, 20% of adults in Alberta struggle with literacy and numeracy tasks in their daily home, work and community activities (1). Digital literacy skills now play an even more important role in our expanding technological world. In Canada, 15% of adults find basic computer-based tasks difficult, for example, tasks requiring multiple-steps such as finding information online and using it to solve a problem (2). 

When we tell the story of literacy we tend to refer to it as an abstract idea, citing statistics and trends. These are important because they describe the issue and this is a serious and important social justice issue. But when we look at the core of the issue what do we see? We see real people. Adult literacy is about people we know, see and interact with everyday who have gaps in their foundational skills. Those gaps can make life difficult in ways that those with higher literacy skills may not even imagine.

This is exactly where CALP programs in Alberta make a difference! CALPs provide supportive learning environments for adults needing to expand their foundational skills sets such as reading, writing, numeracy, English language or basic skills (decision-making, problem-solving, interpersonal and communications skills…). The advantage of community-based learning is that learners receive personalized learning support. They can work towards the specific skills they need to meet a personal goal or to overcome a challenge. In an Alberta CALP, this could be:

  • Gaining document use skills to register a child for school, doctor and sports program
  • Mastering addition, subtraction, fractions and percentages to maintain a monthly budget
  • Learning the etiquette and language used for basic Canadian workplace email communication
  • Reading strategies for treatment information for a chronic illness

CALPs are making an impact in the lives of adult learners in their communities. Every literacy practitioner in Alberta is a living library of inspiring stories of learning and change. Be bold this September 8 and tell your story to your community.

Here are some tips for revealing the human side of literacy to your community:

  • Share a success story – have a learner share something they can do now that they couldn’t do before they came to your CALP program or have a tutor share their experience supporting a learner (remember to get permission to tell people’s stories)
  • Promote understanding of literacy on your website with Advanced Ed’s Literacy Awareness Videos for Alberta’s adult learners 
  • Make meaningful connections at meetings, on your website or social media accounts between literacy and other initiatives in your community. For example, Literacy and Poverty Discussion Paper – Frontier College
  • Encourage people to explore their own skills using interactive tools they can install and use on their phone – Skills Canada Essential Skills iPhone/iPad app 

Be sure to share how you are promoting International Literacy Day with us on the CALP Portal!!

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman
Training Manger
Community Learning Network

1. Statistics Canada. (2013). Skills in Canada: First Results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Ottawa
2. Mahoney, Jill. “Large Digital Skills Divide among Canadian Adults, OECD Study Shows”. The Globe and Mail, 8 Oct, 2013.!/


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