The Importance of Literacy

Helping someone to read and write effectively or acquire the basic math skills so many of us take for granted, improves the future of everyone in society. Literacy is critical to economic development as well as individual and community well-being.

The Importance of Literacy to Economic Development
Our economy is enhanced when learners have higher literacy levels. Effective literacy skills open the doors to more educational and employment opportunities so that people are able to pull themselves out of poverty and chronic underemployment. In our increasingly complex and rapidly changing technological world, it is essential that individuals continuously expand their knowledge and learn new skills in order to keep up with the pace of change.

The Good News

A 2004 Statistics Canada study concluded that a 1% increase in literacy levels would raise Canada’s labour productivity by 2.5%, and add an estimated $32 billion to our annual Gross Domestic Product.

The BC Ministry of Advanced Education has identified that 40% of BC adults have a hard time reading a newspaper, filling out a work application form or understanding a lease; 49 % struggle to calculate a tip, create a budget, calculate sales tax, or understand credit card interest rates. So it is not surprising that currently almost a quarter of British Columbians do not have the literacy skills required to fully participate in today’s knowledge-based economy. Almost 40% of the 62,250 workers in Kelowna – Lake Country have literacy skills below the level required by their occupations (Literacy Report Card for the Federal Electoral District of Kelowna – Lake Country, 2011 – downloaded from

Consequently, there is a growing mismatch between the skills that employers need and the skills that workers have. This discrepancy leads to high unemployment coupled with a high job vacancy rate. Our provincial government has stressed that if we do not address our skill shortages, BC will face an ever greater labour crisis. 1,126,000 job openings are expected in BC over the next decade, yet there are only 607,000 young people in BC’s education system. Soon, there will be more jobs than workers.

Immigration is a major factor in Canada’s economic growth, but successful transition into the Canadian labour market remains elusive for many immigrants whose skills, knowledge and experience are too frequently under-utilized because of English language literacy issues.

Whenever we hear from learners that they have been promoted at work, we know another business has benefited from our service.

I would say that the ability for our employees to be able to utilize numbers and read and understand instructions is critical for our business success.

Grant Stevens – director of human resources for Kelowna Flightcraft

The Importance of Literacy to individual and community well-being:
From an individual perspective, one needs adequate literacy skills to participate and function happily within – and contribute to – one’s communities. For new-comers to Canada, adequate English language skills are essential to forming friendships, without which they are susceptible to isolation, loneliness and anxiety.

Persons with adequate literacy skills maintain better health through their ability to understand and interpret health information. They are better able to communicate clearly with their medical caregivers, learn and adopt preventive health practices and detect problems so that they can be treated earlier, or make appropriate choices amongst health care options. They are also better able to communicate with their children’s teachers and to help their children with school work.

From a collective perspective, a literate community is a dynamic community; a community that exchanges ideas, engages in dialogue is more innovative and productive. The sharing of ideas, perspectives and concerns also leads to greater levels of mutual understanding and caring, and ultimately strong community spirit.

Conversely poor literacy can lead to the risk of exclusion for some individuals and some social groups. A good example of this is youth crime rates that can be directly tied to poor economic and social outcomes.

Literacy Matters – A call for Action published by the TD Bank Financial Group, 2010