Canada’s 9 Literacy and Essential Skills

It used to be that being literate meant being able to read and write. Over time, the definition has expanded to include a variety of basic skills that are needed for people to function in the world. In Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has established 9 components to literacy. Together they make up the Literacy and Essential Skills that our government has determined that are important for Canadians:

  1. Reading text
  2. Document use
  3. Numeracy
  4. Writing
  5. Oral communication
  6. Working with others
  7. Continuous learning
  8. Thinking skills
  9. Computer use

Literacy isn’t a black-and-white, clear-cut issue. A person may excel in one essential skill and have poor abilities in another area. Sue is a network tech who is brilliant in the area of computer use, but doesn’t write very well. Her sentences are poorly constructed and his spelling makes it difficult to understand what he means. Sue would rank high in computer use, and low in writing.

Alfred is a senior citizen who reads and writes very well. Opposite to Sue, he dislikes computers intensely and finds them intimidating. He doesn’t own a cell phone or a home computer and doesn’t want one. In an increasingly technology-centered world, he is frustrated by things like bank machines and the machines at the  local light rail transit station where he must buy a ticket if he wants to go somewhere. Alfred would score high on reading and writing, and poorly on computer use.

In today’s world, reading and writing aren’t enough for most adults to function in society. Together the 9 Literacy and Essential Skills cover all the skills we need for life in the 21st Century.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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