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Quebec undergoes literacy test and fails

by Jade Adams October 8, 2013
Quebec undergoes literacy test and fails

Organizations like Frontier College offer services that reach out to over five hundred adult learners. Photo Jade Adams

A recent study published by Quebec’s Conseil supérieur de l’éducation explores data from a 2003, Statistics Canada survey that says, according to the five levels of literacy outlined, 49 per cent of Quebecers fit into categories one and two. These two categories represent the lowest levels of literacy and fall below level three, which is considered to be the minimum level needed in order to function in everyday society.

Though the study suggests ways to boost literacy levels through looking at various trouble areas, the study received a lot of media coverage that focused on the shocking fact that almost half of Quebecers were found to be illiterate. This statistic and others in the study, however, are not as straightforward as they seem.

The original study had individuals answer various questions that were ranked by difficulty with one being the lowest difficulty level and five being the highest. Categorized in the lowest level did not mean a person could not complete any difficult tasks. Instead, it meant this person was most at ease with the lower level questions. Level three was defined as the level needed to function in society, and the study showed that many participants fell within levels one and two — the lowest on the literacy scale. Researchers conducting the study combined the numbers of levels one and two to make up the 49 per cent.

“The statistics overshadow the strong message that the report was proposing,” said Linda Shohet, executive director at The Centre for Literacy.

She clarifies that levels one and two are discrete and says that these levels should not have been added together to obtain the alarming overall number. Instead, Shohet hopes people can look away from the statistics to focus on the positive recommendations of the report since the report does bring the issue of literacy into the spotlight and calls for the government as well as other organizations to action in order to solve the problem.

Melanie Valcin, Quebec manager of the National Literacy Organization at Frontier College, describes the study’s recommendation as a call for the mobilization of all adult education actors to develop efficient policies and practices to curb the problem. Interestingly, the study focuses on a multifaceted approach that involves learning in both formal and informal environments.

“At Frontier College, we do our part by reaching over five hundred adult learners and more than two thousand children in Quebec,” said Valcin. “We develop partnerships with other organizations such as women shelters, family resource centres, immigrant worker organizations and aboriginal organizations to reach our learners.”

New data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) will be released within the week. This new survey will take technology’s role into consideration which will make a big difference due to our society’s changing relationship with society.

In addition, this new survey will eliminate level three as a literacy cutoff. Therefore, there will be no literacy levels seen to be below or above what is needed to live in contemporary society. As Linda Shohet from The Centre for Literacy explains, “there was no data to support the idea that people ranked in levels one or two could not function in society.”

These new statistics will give the government, different literacy organizations, and the general public an idea of how statistics have changed since 2003. Though even without seeing the statistics, we can all be sure that literacy will continue to be an important issue in Quebec that demands the participation of many groups in order to see improvement.

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