Literacy Alberni Society

Country Profile: Canada

Population

34,994,000 (2013, UNESCO)

Official Languages

English and French.

Poverty (population living on less than US $ 1.25 per day)

9.6% (2007–2011, UNICEF)

Adult literacy rate (15 years and over)

PIAAC test results: percentage of adults scoring at each proficiency level in literacy (level 1 represents the lowest level of proficiency, level 5 the highest):

  • Below level 1: 3.8 %
  • Level 1: 12.6%
  • Level 2: 31.7%
  • Level 3: 37.3%
  • Level 4: 12.8%
  • Level 5: 0.9%
Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleLiteracy Alberni Society
Implementing OrganizationLiteracy Alberni Society
Language of InstructionEnglish
FundingMinistry of Advanced Education (British Columbia); Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (federal); Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training (British Columbia); Canada Summer Jobs (federal); New Horizons for Seniors (federal); Ministry of Education (British Columbia); Coastal Community Credit Union; RBC Royal Bank (national bank); First Book Canada (national free book distributor); ICE Books (national free book distributor); and Post Media for Raise-a-Reader fundraising.
Programme Partnerssame as above.
Annual Programme CostsCA $300,000 (US $207,000)
Date of Inception2004

Country Context

Canada is the second largest country in the world with a population of roughly 36 million people. Due to its vast wealth in natural resources, the national economy has been heavily dependent on commodities as a main driver of growth, which has allowed the country to commit to developing a comprehensive education system for its citizens.

Canada’s education system is among the best-established systems in the world. In 2012, 53 per cent of Canadian adults held a tertiary qualification, the highest proportion in any country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (the OECD average is 32 per cent). Furthermore, the country’s tertiary attainment rate among 25–34 year olds ranked third at 57 per cent. Canada has also successfully established some of the most advanced technical and vocational institutions in the world. According to the OECD, Canada ranks first in this category (college/vocational degree) among developed countries, and has the seventh highest proportion of adults with a university degree. Despite these significant educational achievements, there are many areas across the country that score significantly below the national average in terms of literacy skills and basic qualifications. More specifically, rural areas, small towns and areas highly populated by communities with aboriginal and immigrant backgrounds tend to have low literacy skills levels and high rates of poverty.

The OECD’s 2012 Survey of Adult Skills indicated that 11 per cent of 25–34 year olds had a literacy proficiency level of 0/1 (the lowest level for literacy skills test scores). Moreover, the proportion of the population (25–64 year olds) recorded at the same proficiency level (0/1) reached 53 per cent among those who did not complete upper secondary education, and 18 per cent among those with only upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education. These figures are significantly higher than the recorded OECD averages (39 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively).

Programme Overview

Although British Columbia (BC) has, overall, one of the highest literacy levels in the country, the literacy level of Port Alberni, a small city located in the heart of Vancouver Island, is notably low, at 41 per cent (The Alberni Valley Community Foundation, 2015). Port Alberni is extremely isolated, geographically. Currently, only one road connects the city to the rest of the island. The Alberni Valley, where the city is located, is home to three Nuu-chah-nulth first nations: Tseshaht, Hupacasath and Huu-ay-aht. The population of Port Alberni is just over 18,000, of which aboriginal people comprise 13.3 per cent (ibid.). However, there is only one high school in the city to meet the academic demands of the youth population. The local graduation rate – 74.3 per cent in 2015 – is considerably lower than the provincial average of 83.7 per cent (ibid.). Students with aboriginal backgrounds fare particularly badly here. Port Alberni's aboriginal high school completion rate is 41.7 per cent, compared with the provincial aboriginal high school completion rate of 61.8 per cent (ibid.). Literacy Alberni Society (LAS) was established in 2004 to address these challenges, by raising literacy levels and closing the gap with the rest of the province.

Literacy Alberni Society is a non-profit society focused on the provision of free adult education programmes and supporting those with literacy needs in the Alberni Valley. LAS offers adult courses focused on reading, writing, numeracy, nutrition, computer skills, financial skills, civic engagement, family learning, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and employment readiness.

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Programme Implementation

Literacy Alberni Society employs two full-time staff (an executive director and an assistant) to oversee daily operations, and one part-time staff member (a programme coordinator for the fee-for-service social enterprise, Klitsa Tutoring, which operates from the learning centre on weekday evenings). LAS strongly depends on volunteers in fulfilling its mission. Currently, there are thirty-five volunteers who teach, develop curricula, plan field trips, advocate for clients, offer technical support and contribute to LAS in various other ways.

With the exception of a small number of programmes, most LAS courses are taught at the learning centre in Port Alberni. The centre includes a lending library, which the community can use. LAS also has free books on-site, provided through its partners, First Book Canada and ICE Books Canada.

Currently, there are no accreditation mechanisms at LAS. However, in cooperation with North Island College (NIC), LAS offers adult basic education accreditation through its facilities. In addition, LAS has partnered with School District 70 for the purpose of assisting adult secondary school drop-outs to complete their high school diplomas.

Between 2004 and 2015, the programme engaged as many as 10,000 participants. On average, the annual number of LAS participants is over 1,500.

LAS believes it is vital for adults to hone various skills to ensure their own personal development. It has developed a programme that focuses on a range of areas to fulfil this goal. The different components are described in the paragraphs below. Courses vary in duration and size. However, on average, LAS programmes last for three months. The average classroom size for the programmes is between 13 and 15 participants, though one-to-one tutorials tailored to the needs of individual learners are also offered. The components are stand-alone, meaning that participants might enrol in one, two or more courses according to their educational and life needs.

Methodologies and Approaches

LAS has used on a wide array of teaching methods to improve the quality of the services it provides. This has included the promotion of the use of technology in classrooms. Instructors and learners use tablets, computers, smartphones and projectors to facilitate lessons. This approach enhances the learner’s experience, because it allows them to develop technological skills alongside basic literacies.

In addition, LAS offers regular field trips for participants, during which they can apply what they have learned in real-life situations. Through contextual learning, students become much more confident in using the new skills they have obtained. Leslie Wright, a retired volunteer teacher who has contributed her time and effort to the development of LAS, received a National Recognition Award for the innovative curriculum she developed for new immigrant residents in Port Alberni. Her course involves bi-weekly day-trips around Port Alberni and the surrounding region to introduce new residents to the area. It has predominantly engaged adult female participants in developing English skills and learning more about their new community and culture. This course, as is the case for all ESOL courses at LAS, relies on language immersion and communicative language teaching as the main approaches of the programme.

Community Adult Literacy Programme (CALP)

CALP is a one-on-one tutoring programme that aims to assist adults (18 years and above) to improve literacy and basic literacy skills, i.e. reading, writing, numeracy, social and financial skills and parenting. Upon registration, each learner is assessed using a federally recognized benchmarking assessment tool (as described under Learning Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation). CALP also offers courses to improve technological skills, including the use of tablets and computers. Although these courses are available to the general public, they are predominantly attended by older people seeking to enhance their technological skills.

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Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada Settlement and Orientation Programme (IRCC)

IRCC offers several courses aimed at new residents in Port Alberni who lack basic English skills. These courses orientate learners to the community and country through welcoming workshops, guest lectures and advocacy. IRCC funding also supports ESOL classes and one-on-one tutorials, citizenship examination preparation classes, and driver’s license examination preparation classes intended to disentangle and simplify the complex vocabulary in British Columbia’s driver’s instruction test book and manual.

First Book Canada Free Book Programme

LAS envisages a community that is rich in books. With this vision in mind, LAS has partnered with First Book Canada in Toronto to ensure that all households in the Alberni Valley possess books. Thus far, LAS has donated more than 14,000 new books to the community through public events (such as the Canada Day parade, the fall fair, Halloween, Christmas, spring break and Family Literacy Day). LAS also provides free books for children through its breakfast programme and the local Feed-and-Read programme. These are a 100 per cent volunteer-driven efforts to provide a healthy breakfast for hungry children before school begins each day, with volunteers reading books to the children while they eat.

Little Libraries Programme

In tandem with the Free Book programme that has grown in popularity over the past three years, LAS recently launched the Alberni Valley and West Coast of Vancouver Island’s first ever Little Libraries Programme. Twenty-six Little Libraries were established in the community during Literacy Month in September 2015. Twenty-three of these are in Port Alberni, and one is in Qualicum Beach. The remaining two are located in isolated first-nation communities. In one of these communities, where the Nuu-chah-nulth Opitasaht group lives, it is the first library of any kind to be established. It was an overnight hit, and LAS has already replenished the library five-fold to meet the high demand.

Nutritional Literacy Programme

LAS offers various nutrition programmes that target different groups. In addition to the immediate goal of providing information on nutrition and healthy food choices, these courses are part of LAS’s strategy to support the strengthening of literacy skills in a fun and interactive environment. An example is the ‘Gourmet Cooking in a Skillet’ course that includes a meal-planning session and grocery shopping, specifically geared towards the city’s most marginalized groups. Participants are often drawn from the Vancouver Island Health Authority or Alberni Community and Women’s Services (a local organization that advocates for women’s and aboriginal people’s rights). Many have been without a stable living situation for an extended period. Each week, the course offers twenty adults the opportunity to shop and prepare nutritious meals to bring back to their families. CALP also offers an ESOL cooking class, which caters to the needs of new residents lacking English skills.

Parents as Literacy Supports (PALS)

With the provincially developed PALS programme, established by Decoda Literacy Solutions (Decoda) in Vancouver, LAS shifted part of its focus to young children and their caregivers at home. PALS offers workshops for parents, grandparents, foster parents and other caregivers to learn and utilize games and other activities to support their children’s emergent and existing literacy skills. These programmes are offered in a supportive and non-judgemental environment, with a focus on reading, writing and numeracy, and social, technological and nutritional skills.

Klitsa Tutoring Fee-for-Service Tutoring Programme for School-Aged Children

Klitsa (‘snow covered’ in Nuu-chah-nulth, in honour of the fjord that connects Port Alberni to the Pacific Ocean and Mount Arrowsmith) Tutoring aims to improve the literacy levels of school-aged children by offering a fee-for-service programme. During the classes, learners are assisted with core subjects, homework, time management and exam preparation. The fee is CA $35 (approximately US $26.70) per hour which, according to data provided by LAS, is considerably lower than market prices in the area. Families that cannot afford the fee, such as families from first-nation groups, can apply for subsidy funding, for example through the tribal councils with which LAS has strong established partnerships. The programme developed out of necessity, as none of the existing programmes addressed the literacy needs of children directly. In the four years that Klitsa Tutoring has been operational, more than 8,000 contact hours have been logged between tutors and learners.

Other Programmes

LAS offers other educational programmes, including Teach Buddies iPad (an intergenerational educational programme that helps senior citizens learn how to use new technologies by pairing them with local Grade 3/4 students), and a new financial skills class started in 2015 that focuses on developing financial management skills. Moreover, LAS is working on establishing a financial skills curriculum that addresses the needs of aboriginal peoples, in partnership with North Island College. The partnership enables LAS to offer North Island College (NIC) adult basic education classes for people wishing to study under a certified college instructor and to obtain accreditation for the course on successful completion.

Programme Material

LAS’s curricula are designed and modified by LAS staff, volunteer teachers and advisers from North Island College, School District 70 and Decoda. The latter is a provincial body which oversees and distributes funding to literacy programmes and centres throughout British Columbia. In addition, LAS utilizes material that is available online for the purposes of its programmes. LAS has used various teaching tools, curricula and materials to deliver programmes. With regards to the fee-for-service tutoring programme (Klitsa Tutoring), the curriculum is intended to complement the local public school district’s standard curriculum.

Furthermore, LAS buys, uses and distributes Canada-centred adult basic education resources produced by Grass Roots Press, a division of Literacy Services of Canada Ltd.. LAS also incorporates British and American resources in its ESOL programmes. The family literacy programme is delivered via Decoda's PALS programme. For financial skills courses, LAS uses Canada’s chartered professional accountancy financial literacy curriculum to cover the subject’s most important concepts.

The Canadian Diabetes Association has its own curriculum and recipe books that LAS has adopted for the ‘nutritional literacy’ classes it offers in partnership with the CDA. In promoting a more interactive learning environment, LAS encourages ESOL ‘nutritional literacy’ class participants to share recipes from their culture.

In promoting technological skills, LAS has developed a two-level curriculum, which was designed by Canada World Youth volunteers and LAS staff. The curriculum books, offering instruction at Level 1 and Level 2, are updated regularly to reflect the constant changes in technology and operating systems.

Learners: Enrolment and Assessment of Learning Needs

LAS relies on advocacy and word of mouth in promoting its literacy programmes. Its staff, facilitators and volunteers organize events at which they hand out books to local residents. This increases brand recognition in the city, promotes the organization’s goals, and attracts individuals to improve their literacy skills (learners' enrolment) or volunteer their time for the cause (recruitment of facilitators).

As a student-focused learning centre, LAS also develops individual curricula for each student by assessing their entry level through interviews and placement tests, and encouraging them to enrol in one or more programmes, according to their educational needs. Following this development, LAS matches instructors and learners to ensure an effective and compatible relationship that maximises learning opportunities and makes participants feel comfortable.

LAS attracts learners from many different language, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. LAS’s ESOL learners are currently drawn from 24 countries and some come from the Canadian province of Quebec, where French is the language most commonly spoken. Literacy Alberni’s learners range in age from 18 to 80 years, and have a range of different backgrounds, from current students and school drop-outs, to doctors and stay-at-home parents.

Facilitators and Instructors

Group classes and one-on-one tutorials are delivered by British Columbia-certified retired volunteer teachers, qualified volunteers, contracted instructors and ESOL-certified instructors. LAS’s executive director oversees outreach, which is delivered by certified public school teachers, and volunteers. Prior to becoming LAS volunteers, applicants must sit an intensive one-hour assessment that evaluates their individual motivations. LAS also runs a mandatory Royal Canadian Mounted Police criminal background check, as well as requiring three professional and personal references. Following this process, volunteers must attend a three-day training workshop before starting instruction.

Compensation for teachers and tutors varies from CA $22.50 to CA $45 per hour (US $16.60 to US $33.20), depending on subject matter and location of the programme. All BC-certified teachers who working on the Klitsa Tutoring programme receive CA $25 per hour. However, most of the programme’s instructors and volunteers are unpaid.

In ensuring the continued growth of LAS, the centre offers three-day intensive tutor training sessions twice a year, along with year-round workshops. The tutor training sessions focus on basic adult literacy and ESOL teaching techniques and strategies, as well as the best places online to obtain supporting resource materials to use in class. The training sessions include roundtable discussions and workshops at which tutors can share useful tips and discuss recurring obstacles together. In addition, LAS provides tutors with supplementary manuals to guide them with CALP and ESOL programmes. There is also a resource library at the LAS learning centre, through which volunteers can access supplementary materials, resources, and games.

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Learning Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation

Through interviews and careful documentation, LAS has established a monitoring process. For each literacy programme and level, it has designed and incorporated a standardized interview and questionnaire in which participants share their analyses, feedback and suggestions regarding their experience and curricula.

Individual Education Plan

LAS has developed assessment tools to evaluate students’ rate of progress, and to cater to their specific academic needs in ensuring personal growth. Personal goals and benchmarks are specific to each individual’s learning approach and capability. LAS utilizes informal evaluation methodology to establish learner progress and comfort throughout the year, and formal assessment tools to benchmark an achieved level and progress.

Formally, LAS uses the Diagnostic Adult Literacy Assessment (DALA) tool – an online resource available from http://www.grassrootsbooks.net/ca/special/diagnostic-adult-literacy-assessment-for-beginning-readers-dala.html– to assess learners’ literacy skills. LAS also uses the Canadian Adult Reading Assessment (CARA) tool to assess progress for those learners who enter the programme with more advanced literacy skills. ESOL learners are benchmarked using the federally designed and recognized Canadian language benchmarking system.

Impact and Achievements

LAS has grown from a small, two-person operation to one that serves the entire city of Port Alberni. Since its inception, the programme has helped thousands of adults reach their personal goals in various ways.

Literacy Alberni’s efforts have been recognized, nationally and internationally, with the organization receiving honourable mention, from ABC Life Literacy, for its exceptional literacy work in September 2015. The award acknowledged the work of LAS in welcoming immigrants into the community through literacy courses. Leslie Wright’s course, ‘Conversation and Community – Out and About with Leslie’, was awarded a CA $5,000 grant in recognition of its simplicity, creativity and impact on society. In October 2015, the American Library of Congress Literacy Awards programme recognized the success of LAS in its annual Best Practices publication. Finally, in November 2015, LAS was nominated and shortlisted for the Welcome British Columbia Multicultural Awards.

My experience at Literacy [Alberni Society] has been wonderful because Literacy gave me a great opportunity to have new friends, and, more importantly, study English. After a year I felt more comfortable and independent. It has helped me a lot with understanding how life is in this country, and made me [feel] welcome. I will never forget how the people at Literacy Alberni [Society] received me. A Literacy Alberni student.

Lessons Learned

LAS believes that its success is dependent on the impact of the organization on its immediate community and the overall economy, and on the demand for personal development continuing to grow. Its mission, it recognizes, must be to help individuals develop their skills in becoming contributing members of society. As a result, LAS views itself as a tool that facilitates personal development to help individuals strive for their full potential. However, in such an interactive model, learning is not limited to the learners, but rather applies to all participants, including facilitators and volunteers who take an active role in the programme.

Many older people volunteer their skills to contribute to the work of LAS. Volunteering is a valuable exercise for many people who are elderly and lonely. Volunteering can give people a sense of purpose and direction. Volunteers develop new relationships and use their time more effectively in benefiting wider society. Lifelong learning is a two-way street. In collaboration, facilitators and learners are continuously sharing knowledge through active communication. This is fundamental to the LAS approach and must be prevalent in all areas of its programmes and organizations to ensure success and sustainability.

Challenges

As a non-profit organization, fundraising is an obvious challenge that requires much time and dedication. LAS has relied on the vision and generosity of its partners, sponsors, donors and a number of government bodies in garnering the financial and political support necessary to meet this challenge. However, financial support is often unpredictable and unstable. It is vital that the organization stays the course and searches for new funding opportunities so that it is prepared for any unexpected challenges it meets along the way.

Furthermore, given that many of the facilitators and volunteers are unpaid, high retention rates for these groups are hard to maintain. Clearly, this goes hand in hand with the financial challenge, as they are interdependent. Although LAS would like to continue its current relationship with volunteers, the organization hopes also to increase the number of paid staff, and reduce its dependence on volunteers as primary facilitators of programmes.

The task of recruiting learners can be difficult because of the fear some people have that participating in the programmes will make them look vulnerable. LAS hosts social events to which they invite the public at large, as well as partners and families of LAS clients and learners. These gatherings give the organization the opportunity to gently welcome and get to know people who might otherwise be wary of making public their learning needs.

Sustainability

The LAS annual budget has varied from year to year, due to insecurities and unstable factors in government spending. In 2011, LAS was a prominent advocate for the reinstatement of literacy outreach coordination funding in British Columbia. LAS lobbied on behalf of grassroots literacy organisations, and exercised its democratic right to make their voices heard.

LAS has sustained its operations financially through various fundraising mechanisms, including federal and provincial grants, sponsorship and private/individual donors. Additionally, LAS has established two contributory social enterprises that not only engage the community, but help keep its core adult literacy programmes functioning: the fee-based Klitsa Tutoring Programme and the Computer Refurbishment Programme. The latter, apart from increasing local access to computers, had proved to be a source of additional financial support. LAS receives used computers, refurbishes them with the help of skilled and tech-savvy volunteers, and then resells them to the general public for CA $75. To date, LAS has sold nearly 400 computers. The proceeds have supported the provision of educational opportunities, with between five and ten computers donated annually since the programme’s inception.

Sources

Contact

Ms Charmead Schella
Executive Director
5100 E Tebo Avenue
Port Alberni, British Columbia
V9Y 5Y6
Canada
Tel: +1 (250) 723-7323 | +1 (250) 735-1713
charmead@literacyalberni.ca
info@literacyalberni.ca
www.literacyalberni.ca

Last update: 21 April 2016