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What is Literacy?

Enhancing Literacy Skills: Building Confidence and Support for Better Reading and Writing

A simple definition of literacy is the ability to read and write. But in a larger sense, literacy means understanding or competency. "Literacy is the set of foundational skills that enable an individual “to interpret information, make decisions, and solve problems in personal, work, and community life” (Windisch, 2015, p.20).

UNESCO's definition of literacy expands beyond the traditional notion of basic reading, writing, and numeracy skills: "Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world. Literacy is a continuum of learning and proficiency in reading, writing and using numbers throughout life and is part of a larger set of skills, which include digital skills, media literacy, education for sustainable development and global citizenship as well as job-specific skills."

The Importance of Literacy in Everyday Life

Literacy is the foundation of all learning and touches virtually every aspect of our lives and has a great influence on our well-being. 

Different ways that literacy impacts your life

Everyone has some level of literacy. People who struggle with reading often learn to manage and disguise their challenges. They learn coping techniques like memorizing bus schedules and menus. Some people have strategies like sticking to a routine or only doing new things with friends or family around to offer support. Individuals with literacy challenges have families, jobs, hobbies, and interests. 

While people who seek literacy support live rich and rewarding lives, being able to read and write with confidence makes living in today’s world more comfortable and accessible. It also gives people more opportunities and opens doors. Today, literacy is often used along with a specific word that describes a topic of understanding outside of reading and writing. Computer, financial, emotional, and health literacy are some common forms of literacy. When used this way, "literacy" describes having working knowledge of a specific topic. Numeracy, or being able to understand and work with numbers, is also a part of the bigger picture of learning. 

Building Confidence Through Literacy Support

At United for Literacy, we believe that everyone can learn, but not everyone has the support and resources they need to succeed. 

For many people, one of the steps to building literacy skills is gaining confidence. Working with one person—say, a tutor—each week builds trust. When someone shows up and encourages a learner, it helps to build confidence. Confidence is necessary when the work is challenging. 

It’s important to recognize that everyone has some level of literacy. Even if a person is unable to read or write, they have knowledge that has built over their lives. Many people who struggle with learning know how to drive, work at a job, take care of kids, and perform daily tasks. Often, people go to great lengths to hide their inability to read. People are resilient and adaptable. There is not one reason why an adult may not have strong foundational skills, and there are many ways to support and nurture their learning and growth. That is why we say we meet people where they are on their learning journey.  

Being able to read and write with confidence makes the world easier to handle. Information is everywhere. Having the skills needed to decode the words and their meanings with ease helps people learn new things and make informed decisions.

Young children who have support as they learn gives them the structure to becoming stronger readers. This sets them up for success as they continue in school and in life. 

Free, accessible programs for children, teens, adults, seniors and families opens the space to explore new ideas, concepts, and possibilities. This is especially true for people who didn’t have a lot of success with traditional learning or who are new to Canada. Adults with strong reading comprehension can help their kids with homework, find better jobs, and be certain they’re following the directions on a medication label. From there, anything's possible. 

Literacy changes everything.

National survey on Literacy 

2024 poll

The majority of Canadians (92%) believe improving literacy rates in Canada would improve the standard of living, according to a new Pollara survey commissioned by United for Literacy. Find out more! 

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Literacy and civic engagement

The Key to Getting Involved

Discover the power of civic engagement! Learn how being involved in your community and country can make a difference. From volunteering to voting, find out how you can contribute to building stronger communities. Click to explore more! 

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Financial Literacy Month

November 2023

Explore our suite of resources designed to boost financial literacy for children, youth, parents, and educators. From understanding the connection between financial literacy and numeracy to practical tips for everyday life, join us in shaping a future where everyone can manage money confidently. 

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The impact of Literacy on our CEO's Family

The power of reading together

Explore the touching journey of Mélanie Valcin, President and CEO, as she shares her family's tale of resilience and the power of reading. Follow the inspiring story of Lina, a newcomer to Canada, and her children Maryam and Mohammed, whose lives were transformed by the magic of books. Join us in celebrating the joy of reading and the impact of United for Literacy's programs in shaping brighter futures.

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