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Improving literacy rates critical to quality of life: United for Literacy survey

Mar. 18 2024

The majority of Canadians (92 per cent) believe improving literacy rates in Canada would improve Canadians’ standard of living, according to a new Pollara survey commissioned by United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College).

The national survey reveals 94 per cent of Canadians agree that lower literacy has negative impacts Canadians’ quality of life and 93 per cent say the same about prosperity in today’s society. Those surveyed also believe low literacy skills lead to lower income and limited employment opportunities (70 per cent). However, Canadians are less inclined to make the connection between an individual’s literacy skills and their personal physical health (22 per cent) or experience with crime or violence (28 per cent).

Canadians overwhelmingly (78 per cent) support increased government action to improve literacy rates, highlighting the necessity for greater governmental efforts in literacy support.

While Canada is considered a highly literate society, the literacy rate is lower than many people may think.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), almost 1 in 5 Canadian adults have literacy skills too low to independently complete daily tasks. At this level, a person may find it very difficult to: follow instructions on a medicine bottle or workplace health and safety instructions; apply for employment or housing; understand a legal document; read a bus schedule; help with schoolwork or open a bank account.

Society demands increasingly sophisticated understanding of written language to fully participate in daily life. Today, taking literacy into communities has never been more important. United for Literacy, Canada’s original literacy organization, offers free tutoring and mentoring to adults, youth, and children who need extra support to succeed in the mainstream school system, in the workplace, or in life. Learners include: those experiencing poverty and living in under-resourced communities; individuals with disabilities; low-skilled workers; and newcomers to Canada. Early gaps in schooling or socio-economic factors mean many people are playing “catch-up” from the beginning. Everyone can learn. But not everyone gets the help they need. Canada’s literacy divide widens daily because so many people and communities lack adequate literacy support.

“Literacy touches almost every aspect of our lives. It has a great influence on our well-being. I am encouraged that Canadians stand with us and make the literacy issue a priority; not just for others, but for society as a whole. Bridging the literacy gap is something we can do. It’s our most effective tool for equal access to opportunity. Across Canada—in urbanized, rural, and remote locations—we believe any place can be a learning place; the approach that United for Literacy was founded on in 1899, which established a new way for education and basic literacy to be taught,” says Mélanie Valcin, president and CEO, United for Literacy.

Through a network of thousands of trained volunteers, United for Literacy, has taught millions of people in Canada how to read and write since 1899. Volunteers help people gain the skills and confidence they need to reach their goals. 2024 marks the 125th anniversary of United for Literacy.  


The nationwide survey of 1,552 respondents 18 years+ was conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights using an online methodology between February 20-21, 2024. Data has been weighted using the most current gender, age, & region Census data, to ensure the sample reflects the actual population of adult Canadians.

A collage of five photos of people of all ages reading
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