What is literacy?
Literacy is a whole lot more than just being able to read and write! It encompasses a diverse set of inter-related skills that enable an individual to gain access to information, acquire knowledge, learn, understand and communicate in a variety of settings: at home, at work, and in the community.
UNESCO states: “'Literacy' is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society."
There is a growing recognition that literacy is an important enabler for living, learning and earning a living. Having good literacy skills makes it possible to learn all other skills, to better reach one’s potential and fully participate as a member of society.
UNESCO goes on to state: "Those who use literacy take it for granted - but those who cannot use it are excluded from much communication in today's world. Indeed, it is the excluded who can best appreciate the notion of 'literacy as freedom'." Therefore, literacy is a powerful agent of freedom and personal actualization. Those who are illiterate are thus excluded from society.
Literacy helps build a strong economy, a skilled workforce and a healthy province. People with good literacy skills enjoy a higher standard of living, have better opportunities for finding a job, and are able to continue to learn new skills that will help them in the workplace.
Strong literacy skills help to build strong families and communities. The home is the place where children begin to develop their attitudes towards learning and reading. The time parents and children spend reading together can be a very positive part of their relationship. Literacy also opens doors for people to take a more active role in their communities.
More than 1/3 of Saskatchewan adults experience challenges daily because of low literacy.
Literacy is more than reading and writing.
…citizenship related. Whether casting a ballot in an election, participating in a community forum, accessing programs and services, defending civic or human rights, advocating for change, or volunteering, an effective democracy requires its citizens to be informed and engaged.
…parenting related. Parents with higher literacy skills have greater economic security, which contributes to healthy child development.
…employment related. Nearly half of Saskatoon individuals aged 18 to 24 say they need to improve their literacy skills to improve their employment opportunities.
As a volunteer literacy organisation READ Saskatoon is committed to helping individuals improve their literacy skills. The UNESCO Institute for Education has come up with a definition for literacy that takes into account the global implications of low literacy levels:
“Literacy can no longer be simply defined in terms of reading, writing or numeracy, nor can it be seen as an end in itself. People must be able to adapt continually to developments in science, technology, and to the pressures for social integration, participation and democratisation. The world is becoming more visual than before, and the ability to understand images is just as important as to understand words. Therefore literacy has to be seen as a tool for learning throughout life.” (p.5 “Literacy in the world and its major regions”, Fifth International Conference on Adult Education, 1997)
What are Essential Skills?
The Office of Literacy and Essential Skills defines essential skills as “the skills needed for work, learning, and life. They provide the foundation for learning all other skills and enable people to evolve with their jobs and adapt to workplace change.”
The 9 Essential Skills are:
Essential Skills are measured across 5 skill levels with level 1 being inclusive of individuals who have not completed grade 12 and level 5 being inclusive of individuals who have completed university. Individuals may have graduated from high school but find themselves at a level lower than what would be expected from a grade 12 education. At READ Saskatoon, we offer short, practical learning blasts to tutors and learners that address each of the essential skills beginning at level 1 and progressing to higher levels as the individual develops those skills.
What are the Saskatchewan Literacy Benchmarks?
Saskatchewan Literacy Benchmarks Levels 1 & 2 describes Generic Skills as transferrable general life skills or skills that contribute to independence. These skills may be transferred into other areas of life such as work, community and family. Once the individual has begun to acquire these skills they are then equipped with the necessary tools for the pursuit of successful lifelong learning. Learners may then acquire the necessary skills needed to pursue further training and education that can enhance their lives both professionally and personally. Generic Skills are a fundamental foundation for success in family, work and community.
The Generic Skills listed by Saskatchewan Benchmarks guidelines are:
Benchmarks incorporate a learner-centred approach to the acquisition of skills in the framework of adult learning. Whether in a classroom setting, or a one to one tutor-learner relationship, the lessons are formulated around three objectives: where the learner has been and what they have learned, where the learner is now and what they want, and where the learner is going and what they need to get there. With a learner-centred approach the learner is encouraged to set goals, both short-term and long-term, and organize them according to a projected timeline. At READ Saskatoon, within the framework of our volunteer tutor-learner model, we intend to extend goal setting beyond an academic focus and incorporate learning goals to be interconnected in the learner’s work, family and community spheres. This process is enhanced by the production of a learning portfolio to measure and demonstrate the skills learned. As outlined in the Saskatchewan Literacy Benchmarks document, “Learners can concretely see the steps they have taken to reach their goals and feel empowered that they control their own learning.” (p.146)
Both Essential Skills and Saskatchewan Literacy Benchmarks Levels 1 and 2 embrace the concept of adult learning and the skills necessary in work, learning and life. Essential Skills adheres to the concept of continuous learning and the development of nine skills deemed necessary to succeed. Benchmarks defines adult learning within a model of intrapersonal growth and health that extends beyond workplace learning and success to an individual’s participation and responsibility to family and community.
Benchmarks approaches learning from an Aboriginal perspective through the use of the medicine wheel. Learners approach learning in family, community and work through the enrichment of body, mind, heart and spirit. Each of these components of our selves is equal to 25% of our whole self. When we focus on the development of only one component we run the risk of functioning on only one resource and not reaching our full potential. When we cultivate growth in all four areas of the self we equip ourselves with a whole person able to pursue lifelong learning and acquire the skills needed for a successful life.
Click on the following links to learn more about literacy in our community, our province, our country and our world.
Literacy and Saskatchewan
The latest information about literacy in our community, province and country
Prose Literacy Scores
Links to other Saskatchewan organizations concerned about literacy:
Links to National organizations: