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The Intersection of Adult Foundational Literacy and Poverty – BLOG #1


In the spring of 2017, Frontier College hosted a webinar on literacy and poverty. Participants from across Canada joined the discussion. As stated:

the forum was intended to generate discussion of the various ways that individuals and communities can fight poverty through the power of literacy” (1)

Later that spring CanLearn and Bow Valley College’s Centre for Excellence in Foundational Learning created an opportunity to work together on a Literacy and Poverty project that both organizations are passionate about.

Nada Jerkovic and Berniece Gowan, both literacy practitioners with considerable experience in the field, submitted a joint proposal to Calgary Learns, a project that strategically addresses foundational learning gaps in the city.

The goal of the project is to build a stronger strategic alignment between the poverty reduction sector and the adult literacy and foundational learning sector in Calgary. Increased knowledge and understanding about the intersection of these issues will create opportunities to work together to decrease barriers for adults experiencing poverty and low literacy.”

Statistics Canada confirms that ‘literacy skill level and household income are positively related.’

In an information-based economy, people who struggle with literacy have a hard time getting a job or making more than a minimum wage. Likewise, higher literacy and numeracy skills are associated with greater employment levels and higher earnings’

In Canada, as many as 4.3 million people are living with poverty. Though evidence suggests that raising literacy rates is one of the best ways to change this, literacy often plays a limited role in coordinated strategies to eliminate poverty.” (1)

 The Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative (CPRI)  ‘Enough for All’ strategy has identified that 1 in 10 Calgarians live in poverty, that 1 in 5 are concerned about not having enough money for food and 1 in 3 Calgarians are concerned about not having enough money for housing. The resulting poverty-reduction Enough for All Strategy is built upon the vision “together we can end poverty in Calgary” and with the following rationale in mind:

“Despite an extensive system of programs and services provided throughout Calgary by more than 1,200 agencies, many people have difficulty accessing and benefitting from those services. The challenges in this area are great; however, we see complex challenges as great opportunities to collaborate to implement impactful solutions.” (2)

CPRI Enough for All initiative aims to reduce poverty in Calgary by 50% by 2023 through community-driven actions and cross-sector collective impact approach based on shared understanding of the issue and mutually reinforcing activities.

As literacy, poverty and exclusion are all part of the same problem, the adult foundational learning and literacy field has an essential role to play in making this goal achievable.

It is our belief that strengthening the relationship between the adult literacy system in Calgary with the poverty reduction system/stakeholders will increase collective knowledge about the initiatives in both systems, surface new possibilities to support and engage with each other to address poverty, and create new opportunities for marginalized learners in the communities they connect to for support.

There is a connection between well-being and potential literacy
development as adults who earn less participate less in activities that support
the development of literacy abilities, and have fewer opportunities to
participate in job training and education”
Decoda Literacy and Poverty Fact Sheet (3)
Poverty is entrenched through poverty of opportunity. For literacy to be a
tool in the fight against poverty, it needs to make opportunities available to
those who need them most
. ‘Frontier College – national forum on Literacy and Poverty 2017 (1)
“Higher literacy can boost the economic and financial success of individuals and the economy
as a whole. It can reduce poverty, improve health, lift community engagement and lead to a
higher standard of living. In fact, it is hard to identify any other single issue that can have
such a large payoff to individuals, the economy and society.”
 (4)Alexander, Craig. (2007). Literacy matters: a call for action. TD Bank Financial Group

Strategic partnerships, strategic alignment, have the potential to create lasting changes in the adult literacy/foundational learning system as well as the poverty reduction system.

Lorene Anderson has been hired as the project lead. She has extensive experience in foundational learning and adult literacy and is knowledgeable about the poverty reduction sector as well.

Deliverables for this project will include a targeted cross-sector scan on literacy and poverty; a Community of Practice bringing together poverty and literacy sector leaders; a guide on literacy and poverty resources and a May 2018 symposium on literacy and poverty.

We look forward to hearing from you about this exciting project.


Through our monthly blogs, we will keep you informed about the project, offer commentary and share practical tips we have learned through the project.


  1. Poverty Reduction Through Improved Literacy, position paper submitted by Frontier College, June 2107
  4. Alexander, Craig. (2007). Literacy matters: a call for action. TD Bank Financial Group. Retrieved from:


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