The 2003 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL) found that 42% of Canadian adults have literacy skills below that considered necessary to meet everyday reading requirements.

Our 21st century economy requires ever higher literacy skills for most jobs. Already there are gaps between the skills required for demand occupations and those of many in the labour pool.

Effectively bridging that gap will be necessary for Canada to thrive in a highly competitive world economy. Expediting immigrant professionals’ ability to obtain licensing is one approach. Improving the literacy skills of Canada’s population overall is another. Implementing new and effective ways of improving youth literacy is integral to this strategy.

According to the HRDC Youth in Transition Survey, approximately 15% of Canadian men and 9% of women do not attain a high school diploma by age 20. Substantially greater numbers graduate from high school, but lack the basic literacy skills considered essential for everyday life.

Young people drop out or struggle through school for many reasons. A lack of basic literacy skills is a common factor.

Many youth with substantial literacy deficits follow a surprisingly similar pattern: They enjoyed and functioned well in their early elementary grades. But, for one reason or another, they did not learn to read by the end of third grade. In fourth grade, most schools shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Students with inadequate reading skills begin to fall behind. By seventh or eighth grade their reading deficits become more apparent to their peers. Not wanting to be seen as dumb, they begin to act out or withdraw to cover their inability to complete or understand schoolwork. Truancy increases. They learn less and less. By tenth grade they realize they can’t graduate and ultimately drop out.