Why this research is so important

According to the International Adult Literacy Survey, 38 per cent of Canadians have difficulty with everyday reading and writing tasks.

To address this problem, there has been a dramatic increase during the past 20 years in the level and type of official attention paid to the issue of literacy rates among the adult population in Canada. Since 1995, Canada has had a massive, private-sector awareness campaign, called LEARN, aimed at encouraging adults to return to school to upgrade their basic education.

Despite the increased funding and messages about the importance of increasing literacy skills, only 5 to 10 per cent of eligible adults with low literacy skills ever enrol in literacy programs.

This presents the literacy field with a startling and pressing question: Why, in the face of increasing public policy initiatives and highly visible outreach campaigns, is the majority of people with low literacy skills still reluctant to participate in literacy programs?

Looking for answers

ABC CANADA has been searching for the reasons. In 2001, it published "Patterns of Participation," a study that concentrated on people who had made it to the gateway of literacy or upgrading programs, but had not continued, either because they didn't enrol, or they dropped out after a short time.

With this new research project, "Nonparticipation in Literacy and Upgrading Programs: A National Study," ABC CANADA looks at an important and little-studied group - Canadians without high school diplomas who have never contacted a literacy or upgrading program.

What's different about this study

Most of the research done on participation (or nonparticipation) in formal education programs has focused on individuals who either have dropped out of, or who are currently enrolled in, literacy programs.

Studies looking at nonparticipants who have never attempted to enrol in a literacy or upgrading program, are comparatively few in the literacy field.

Thus, many questions remain unanswered.

Qualitative and quantitative data

"Nonparticipation in Literacy and Upgrading Programs; A National Study" is an attempt to answer some of these questions.

Between October I999 and January 2000, ABC CANADA interviewed 44 Canadians who had never completed high school. The results of these in-depth interviews comprise Stage One of the national study, which focuses on the qualitative data. The quotes you see in this summary come from this stage of the research.

Stage Two of the national study, conducted in early 200I, is an extensive telephone survey that concentrates on quantifiable data. Researchers contacted 866 individuals across Canada who have less than high school completion and have never taken a literacy program or attempted to complete their high school diploma. Highlights of the data from Stage Two are included in this summary report.

The central aim of "Non participation in Literacy and Upgrading Programs; A National Study" is to uncover ways to:

increase appeal of adult basic education programs,
address the barriers faced by adult learners, and
improve the planning, organization and content of these programs.

The results will have significant bearing on future policy and program design.


Copyright © 2002 ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation

The contents of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part provided the intended use is for non-commercial purposes, ABC CANADA's prior written permission is obtained, and full acknowledgment is given to ABC CANADA.

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