Lunch & Learn Summary: Breaking the Stigma for Albertans with Low Literacy

April 25, 2022

By: Vibhu Kher, Practicum Student


Involving the whole of community in supporting Albertans with low literacy is essential to advancing the development and skills of these individuals. Literacy develops through everyday contexts; a supportive network and effective community engagement is called upon.

Over 19 Edmontonians participated in the virtual Lunch and Learn session on Thursday April 14 to understand the stigma behind adult literacy in Alberta and how this can contribute to life-long development challenges for these individuals.

The Centre for Family Literacy in conjunction with the Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC) addressed key factors and impacts leading to stigmatization of Albertans with low literacy.

The session was primarily led by Kim Chung, Co-Executive Director for Programming and Training, and assisted by Kristen Dmytriw, Facilitator at the Centre for Family Literacy, along with Brett Lambert, Research Officer at ESPC serving as the host and moderator.


Low Literacy and Impacts

45 per cent of Albertans from age 16 to 65 struggle with low literacy, a high number for a technologically advanced and well-off province such as Alberta. Literacy refers to the ability to ‘identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials’ associated with different contexts in a given time period.

An individual with low literacy requires an extended period of time, special aid and support to adequately achieve their goals and participate completely in wider society. Goals range anywhere between being able to fill out forms or attain employment.

Kim describes one of the experiences of having low literacy equivalent to travelling in a foreign country and not knowing the language. Some signs of low literacy include:

  1. Disinterest or refusal to engage
  2. Feelings of frustration during perceived difficulty in tasks
  3. Forgetting required items to avoid tasks (ex. Eyeglasses)
  4. Indirect, confused or irrelevant answers to questions
  5. Asking repetitive questions already stated in the document

Feelings associated with low literacy include:

  1. Incapable
  2. Frustration and stress
  3. Sadness
  4. Awkward and uncomfortable

Living with low literacy can affect individuals throughout their life, families, communities, professional work and social inclusion.

These feelings are also heightened when others make these individuals feel less capable by questioning their ability to understand further leading to stigmatization.

These feelings can last up to a lifetime and also cause mental health distress, further pushing their personal goals away and leading to social exclusion from community engagement.

When asked by a participant about post-secondary education for low literacy students, Kim advised that “people getting pushed through the system may graduate high school but struggle in university, unknowingly.”


Centre Programs and Approach

The Centre for Family Literacy focuses on learning about the ‘simple goals’ of adults with low literacy, it’s about “helping people achieve their potential and how they define their potential” says Kim.

Overall, strengthening family relationships by improving adult literacy, and increasing opportunity for children’s language and literacy development, fostering active involvement in community.

The Centre offers programs, training and resources for adults and families to improve literacy and increase opportunity for children’s language and literacy development through parents and programs.

The Centre follows a holistic approach for family-based learning, providing early intervention for children all the while supporting parents in pursuing their own skill development and training.

Chung uses Malcolm Knowles’ Adult Learning Principles to identify ways to enhance a learner’s experience at the Centre, making material immediately relevant and practical to their lives and increasing comprehension and retention.

Showing respect, involving them in planning and evaluation of a learning opportunity and “acknowledging their life experience [is] an important foundation to their learning” says Kim.

Training at the Centre focuses on building capacity and apps like Flip are resources for development purposes available through the Centre. Other resources include Microsoft Office Readability tool and using informal diagnostic to assess the learners and their needs.

Informal assessments are conducted to ensure comfort for the learner and apply a “go with a flow” methodology, says Kristen, Facilitator at the Centre.


What Can You Do?

Understanding the perspective of someone with low literacy can help realize how and where comprehension in the workplace can be easy or difficult for these individuals.

Kim recommends doing a literacy audit at the workplace as it addresses signs, resources, forms and interactions through the perspective of someone with low literacy.

There is a dire need to build awareness, sharing information about low literacy and its impacts, knowing which organizations to refer people to and working with literacy programming can all help break the stigma.


Watch the Lunch & Learn recording here


Lunch and Learn sessions take place monthly hosted by the ESPC, check out here to learn more about upcoming events as they are announced. Additional resources for the Centre for Family Literacy can be found here.

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