Literacy and Corrections | Littératie et services correctionnels

Correctional volunteer literacy tutors in Ontario | Tuteurs bénévoles en alphabétisation et services correctionnels en Ontario

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What is Literacy?

The simplest definition is that literacy is the ability to read and write at a level that makes it possible to fully participate in society. Literacy programming addresses four main areas – reading, writing, document use and numeracy. It also includes developing an understanding of the printed word and the ability to think and problem solve, complete mathematical tasks and use computers.

Reading is the foundation of literacy and is comprised of a number of skills:

    Phonics is a method of decoding the language in order to read and write. It involves learning how to connect the sounds of the language with individual and groups of letters, and learning how the blends of sounds help to pronounce unknown words.  Reading is dependent on the ability to recognize words quickly and effortlessly.
    Vocabulary is words that are familiar to the reader. The larger the vocabulary, the more successful the reader. This is one of the biggest barriers to the reader who did not develop a vocabulary with age.
    Comprehension is the ability to understand writing. When there is a lack of recognition and ability to use phonics, it becomes difficult to understand what is being read due to spending too much time on decoding and recognition.

What level of literacy is needed?

An International Adult Literacy Survey identified five levels of literacy for adults:

    Level 1 - Individual can read a little but not well enough to fill out an application, read a food label, or read a simple story to a child.
    Level 2 - Individual usually can perform more complex tasks such as comparing, contrasting, or integrating pieces of information, but does not have higher-level reading and problem-solving skills.
    Level 3 - The skill level required for successful secondary school completion and college entry.
    Level 4 and 5 - People who demonstrate command of higher-order information processing skills.

It was determined that Level 3 is the minimum level by which a person can function successfully in society and obtain and maintain employment. In order for offenders to reintegrate successfully back into the community, literacy and employment are key.

According to the National Literacy Secretariat 42% of Canadians, aged 16-65, do not have the literacy skills required for full participation in the knowledge economy.  Approximately 22% of Canadians between the ages of 16 and 69 score at or below Level 1 on the International Adult Literacy Survey scale and 25% score at Level 2. (See Highlights from the Canadian Report)

The Ontario Literacy Coalition’s 2009 report identified the changing nature of the employment market with the number one trend being “skilled trades’ shortages” followed by a “shift in key employment sectors.” A “lack of Essential Skills” was identified as the fifth trend. These trends reinforce the importance of literacy in Ontario’s labour market. The report further identified that there has been an “upskilling” (demand for certification or postsecondary education) of many jobs that had traditionally been entry level or did not require any certifications. Twenty-seven occupations showed a strong or significant shift to college graduate skills; 13 occupations showed a strong or significant shift to university graduates. Increased testing for employment and apprenticeship means increased demand for strong literacy skills.


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