Illiteracy in Quebec: false beliefs

To understand the reality of illiterate people, we must put aside our prejudices and stereotypes.

This is easier said than done in our society where the word “illiterate” is perceived as pejorative and negative.

This implies that people labeled as such are not as ”good” as those who can read and write. The lack of information on this subject contributes greatly to this perception.

Our awareness and information mandate is mainly aimed at demystifying this problem, raising awareness, and changing mentalities about illiteracy in Quebec.

  • Quebec has very few illiterate people; they are only found in developing countries.

19% of Quebecers are illiterate (literacy levels -1 and 1) and 34.3% have great difficulty reading and are at literacy level 2. The latter are often referred to as functionally illiterate. These are not fictional, but actual numbers. Illiteracy affects all countries, regardless of whether they are industrialized or not. Quebec is no exception to this reality1.

  • The majority of illiterate people (level 1) are elderly and immigrants.

10% are 16 to 25 years old;

39% are 26 to 46 years old (of parenting age);

51% are 46 to 65 years old;

Only 31% of level 1 individuals are immigrants (ages 16-65).

Immigrants are often better educated than the average Quebecer. In fact, education is an important criterion for obtaining the right to immigrate to the province. These people have very good reading and writing skills in their mother tongue. However, they have difficulties in French and therefore need francization more than literacy trainin2..

  • Illiterate people aren’t smart.

Although illiterate people have not acquired the reading skills required to meet the needs of today’s Quebec, they have generally developed many other skills. However, they face many barriers related to their inability to access written information. Illiterate adults and poor readers often live in survival mode and are ashamed of their difficulties. They generally resort to strategies that allow them to hide their problem from those around them for much of their lives.

  • A dyslexic person is illiterate.

People with dyslexia are not necessarily illiterate. They are able to read and write, even if they have difficulties. Dyslexia, like dysorthography and other learning disabilities, can lead to illiteracy if people are not adequately supported in developing mechanisms that allow them to read.

  • Illiterate parents are bound to have illiterate children.

Children whose parents are undereducated, or illiterate, are more likely to be illiterate. However, if these parents are made aware of the importance of reading at a young age and if they get the necessary support to participate in their child’s stimulation at home, the child will arrive at school better equipped and will have a better chance of success. It is clear, however, that the people around the child (friends, babysitters, extended family) as well as the school staff will also have a great influence on the child’s academic success3.

Sources :

1Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD),, Octobre 2003

2Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey: Public Use Microdata File,Statistics Canada, 2006. Compilation: Institut de la statistique du Québec. ,

3Développer nos compétences en littératie : un défi porteur d’avenir, Rapport québécois de l’Enquête internationale sur l’alphabétisation et les compétences des adultes (EIACA) (Developing Our Literacy Skills: Meeting the Challenge of the Future, International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey [IALSS]—Quebec Report), 2003, Quebec City, Institut de la statistique du Québec, 256 pages.,

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