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Causes of illiteracy


Literacy training

Literacy training is aimed at individuals experiencing serious difficulty with reading, writing or calculation. These minimum skills are necessary to function well in society, since they make it possible to enter the labour market, enhance one’s personal development and perform one’s social roles (as parents, citizens, consumers, etc.). 

Source: Notions de base, Commission scolaire de l’Énergie, Shawinigan, Quebec, 2002. [Our translation]

French-language literacy training

French language-literacy training helps adults whose first language is not French and who cannot read or write in their mother tongue to acquire basic knowledge of oral and written French. 

Early childhood literacy

Offered by school boards and grassroots education organizations, early childhood literacy programs help reduce the risk of illiteracy in children whose parents have reading difficulties themselves. Intervenors and volunteers read children stories in order to foster their love of reading and writing. The programs can also help maintain the desire to read in children experiencing difficulty at school and help parents have a positive impact on their child’s acquisition of knowledge and skills in written communication.

Source: J’apprends avec mon enfant, Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, Montreal, 2002. 

French-language training

French-language training (sometimes called “francization”) enables adults whose mother tongue is not French to acquire basic oral and written French skills and, in the case of non-French, non-English immigrants, to develop the skills required to integrate into Quebec society while preparing their transition to further studies or the job market.

Source: Panorama de l’éducation des adultes en formation générale au Québec (Panorama of general adult education in Quebec), Quebec Ministry of Education, Quebec City, 2002. 


Literacy is defined as the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential. 

Literacy encompasses a range of skills from the decoding of written words and sentences to the comprehension, interpretation, and evaluation of complex texts. It does not, however, involve the production of text (writing). 

Information on the skills of adults with low levels of proficiency is provided by an assessment of reading components that covers text vocabulary, sentence comprehension and passage fluency. 

Source: OECD, 2013. 


Numeracy is defined as the ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life. 

To this end, numeracy involves managing a situation or solving a problem in a real context, by responding to mathematical content and concepts represented in multiple ways. 

Source: OECD, 2013 

Illiterate individuals

Individuals with weak literacy skills who, in their mother tongue, have serious difficulty with reading, writing and calculating in everyday life if the text is not clear and familiar. They stand on the lowest rung (Level 1) of the reading proficiency ladder established in the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). 

Source: Quebec Ministry of Education. L’alphabétisation au Québec – Rapport provincial déposé à la Conférence provinciale et territoriale en alphabétisation (Literacy in Quebec: Provincial report tabled with the Provincial/Territorial Literacy Conference), Quebec City, 2003, p. 6. [Our translation].

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