The causes of illiteracy in Quebec

The problem of illiteracy in Quebec is the result of various causes that are generally interrelated.

Together, they create a series of often insurmountable obstacles for the person concerned, which impedes their literacy.

For example, people who are born in a disadvantaged environment to parents with low levels of education are more likely to be illiterate or to have significant learning difficulties. This is what we call the intergenerational transmission of illiteracy.

Illiteracy in Quebec: the most frequent causes in adults

Little education;

Lack of books at home and lack of encouragement regarding the importance of reading;

Academic failure and school dropout, with many not completing high school;

Harsh living conditions and poverty;

Learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysorthography, etc.

Changes in the employment sector that negatively affect illiterate people

Adults aged 45 and over with low literacy skills are also unique in that they belong to the generations for whom job opportunities were attractive despite lower levels of education. Many of them have always worked in the same field, have started a family, and, therefore, have not felt the need to return to school.

After job cuts, these people find themselves without a job and are often unable to find a new one given their difficulty with reading and writing. In addition, they do not have the necessary skills to meet the current requirements of the labour market or to enroll in a training program that would allow them to requalify.

Literacy education: obstacles to learning

Despite the many advantages of undertaking a literacy or basic training program, illiterate people must face obstacles that often prevent them from moving forward. 

They have to face a lot of difficulties that often lead to them giving up on their plans to return to their education :*

Problems managing program offerings and accessibility requirements, such as a contact person who does not return calls, a long waiting list, or inconvenient schedules.

Family constraints and commitments.

People’s personal dispositions based on past learning experiences (e.g.,: school failure).

Pessimistic outlook and low self-esteem.

Lack of confidence in their ability to learn.

Lack of money (precarious situation, in survival mode).

Schedule conflict with a paying job.

Geographic distance from educational institution.

Concerns about the program itself: length, degree of difficulty, concerns about ability to work at one’s own pace or relevance of content offered.

Difficulties in coping with change.

Shame about having others find out about their problem.

Sources :

*Selma Vorobief, Parcours des apprenants potentiels à la suite d’un appel aux lignes de référence Info‑Alpha et Info Apprendre, Fondation pour l’alphabétisation, Montréal, avril 2009, 81 pages

Services for adults

In order to counter illiteracy in Quebec, the Literacy Foundation has set up services for adults wishing to acquire new skills, improve themselves and better integrate into society and in the workplace.

A support and referral service in literacy and basic training dedicated to adults experiencing difficulties with reading, writing and numeracy.

Skills Improvement – Reading – Writing – Numeracy – Confidential – Adult

A support and referral service for Quebecers wishing to acquire and develop professional skills.

Find an education – Back to school – Confidential – All ages