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Causes of illiteracy

Barriers to training

Despite the numerous advantages associated with undertaking literacy or basic training, illiterate individuals face barriers that often prevent them from moving ahead. 

For those deciding to take the necessary steps to upgrade their skills and change their condition, sometimes following several months or even years of deliberation, that does not mean they are there yet. They have to face numerous other difficulties which all too often lead them to drop their plans to go back to school:

  • Problems concerning management of the programs offered and accessibility, such as a resource-person who does not call back, long waiting lists or inconvenient schedules;
  • Family constraints and imperatives;
  • Individuals’ own disposition, in line with past learning experiences (e.g., doing badly at school);
  • Pessimistic outlook and low self-esteem;
  • Lack of confidence in their ability to learn;
  • Lack of money (precarious situation, barely enough money for basic needs);
  • Schedule conflict with paid job;
  • Distance from training site;
  • Concerns with the program itself: duration, level of difficulty, anxiety about being able to work at their own pace and relevance of content offered;
  • Difficulty dealing with change;
  • Shame at having their problem revealed to others. 

Observations taken from research on users calling the Literacy Foundation’s Referral Department:

  • A high proportion (87%) of them said they were satisfied with the service received through the Info-Alpha line and the Adult Learnline;
  • 80% approach a training centre after calling the Foundation’s Referral Department;
  • 50% of those who approach a training centre register in a class;
  • Those who do not register in a class describe various personal barriers associated with institutions:
    • not obtaining the information they needed;
    • not being called back;
    • the class was no longer offered, no longer existed or was not offered owing to insufficient registrations. 


Selma Vorobief, Parcours des apprenants potentiels à la suite d’un appel aux lignes de référence Info-Alpha et Info Apprendre (Path taken by learners following a call to the Info‑Alpha and Adult Learnline reference lines), Literacy Foundation, Montreal, April 2009, 81 pages.

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