Family Literacy Programmes, Training, and Services

Country Profile: Canada


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 TitleFamily Literacy Programmes, Training, and Services
Implementing OrganizationCentre for Family Literacy (CFL)
Language of Instructionmultilingual (context specific)
Funding95% of funding from provincial and federal governments, 5% from NGOs
Date of Inception1980

Context and Background

Canada is one of the world’s wealthiest and ethnically diverse countries. With its huge economy, the country has managed to develop a strong social service industry to cater for its citizens. In particular, Canada’s educational system is highly developed and the State, through provincial and territorial governments, offers free and compulsory education to all persons under the age of 19. As a result, a majority of people have access to education as indicated by the high rate of enrolment in primary (99,5%) and secondary school (97,9%) as of 2000 to 2007; high completion rate of secondary education (74% as of 2002 -2003) and near universal adult and youth literacy rates.

However, these impressive educational gains disguise some fundamental variations. Firstly, access to education and therefore literacy rates vary significantly across ethnic and regional lines. According to the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS, 2003), the proportion of Aboriginal and migrant people with lower literacy skills is generally higher than other cultural groups. The IALSS also indicated that the rate of illiteracy is higher among Francophone people (with the exception of those in Quebec) than Anglophones. Secondly, most people loose their literacy skills with age due to lack of appropriate ongoing practice, with some studies suggesting that, “the proportion of Canadian adults with high literacy skills fell from 24% to 20%” between 1994 and 2003. In light of this, the IALSS revealed that, overall, 48% of Canadians aged 16 years and above performed at levels I and 2 on the prose literacy scale whereas experts view level 3 as the minimum literacy skill level necessary for everyday social functionality. Essentially therefore, millions of adult Canadians struggle to deal with or comprehend basic literacy material and are in need of further training.

In order to address these challenges, a wide range of integrated and multi-faceted literacy programmes has been initiated and implemented at the national and provincial levels by both governmental and non-governmental organisations. The Centre for Family Literacy (CFL) is one of the leading organisations that is currently implementing innovative family literacy programmes in the country.

The Center for Family Literacy: A Brief History

The CFL owes its origins to the spirit of volunteerism and devotion to national or community service that has pervaded Canadian society in the last few decades. During the early 1980s a group of concerned and self-motivated Canadians from Alberta established the Prospects Literacy Association (PLA), a voluntary organisation that provided free individualized and / or group-based family literacy training programmes in the province. In order to effectively implement the emerging family literacy programme, the PLA trained literacy skills trainers and also established strategic partnerships with community libraries, schools and institutional organizations such as University of Alberta, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region and Alberta Learning.

By the mid-1990s, more than 2 500 families had benefited from the programme and because of this early success, the PLA received substantial funding from the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), Human Resources Development Canada, to establish the CFL which later replaced the PLA as the lead organisation in the implementation of integrated family literacy programmes. Apart from developing and implementing literacy training programmes, the CFL was also mandated to spearhead research in and documentation and dissemination of family literacy information for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds in order to raise public awareness on the importance of literacy to development. It is against this background that the CFL developed the Family Literacy Training Programmes (FLTP).

The Family Literacy Training Programmes (FLTP)

The FLTP is an intergenerational and integrated family literacy programme which is currently being implemented by the CFL in the province of Alberta with funding from 20 government and non-governmental organisations and corporations. The FLTP was particularly developed for and therefore targets children, youth and adults from disadvantaged social backgrounds such as ethnic minorities. As such, the programme is often tailored to and builds on the participants’ specific socio-cultural contexts and needs. Additionally, in order to implement the programme effectively, the CFL works in conjunction with over 60 community-based and professional organizations schools and a network of trained literacy facilitators.

Aims and Objectives:

The FLTP programme endeavours to:

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The CFL provides programme facilitators with comprehensive training in conducting family literacy teaching sessions. The CFL conducts two or three training workshops for new facilitators per year and each training session lasts for a period of … After the initial formal training, facilitators receive ongoing mentoring through individual meetings with CFL field coordinators and through the Tutors Club, an organisation which brings facilitators together from time-time in order to share field experiences. Literacy facilitators are trained to employ learner-centred (participatory) and culturally and contextually based teaching-learning methods in order to assist learners to easily grasp relevant literacy skills as well as to motivate them to learn. These methods, which include group / family discussions; story telling; art and simulation, are also critical in empowering learners to find solutions to their context specific needs or problems as well as in fostering harmony and social cohesion.

Enrolment of Learners

Various strategies and approaches are used to enroll and motivate learners to participate in the FLTP. These include: community-based family literacy advocacy or sensitization campaigns (e.g. through public conferences and fairs; training workshops and home-based mentoring), capacity building (e.g. training of adults as literacy mentors), establishment of community drop-in centres and libraries, and working in conjunction with schools and community-based organisations. In most cases, CFL encourages communities or schools to play a leading role in the implementation of family literacy programmes. This approach is not only intended to motivate individuals and communities to participate in the programme but also ensures that the programmes effectively address the particular needs of the participants and their communities.

Programme Components and Implementation

The FLTP encompasses a number of inter-related and mutually reinforcing constituent programmes which address the intergenerational needs of learners and their families and communities. These include:

In order to highlight the interconnectedness and contribution of the constituent programmes to the development of family literacy, this report briefly explores some of these programmes in greater detail.

Books for Babies (BfB)


The BfB is a four-week drop-in and child-centred literacy programme which is currently funded by the Edmonton Journal’s Raise-a-Reader campaign and the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region. The programme provides families with children’s books and encourages parents with children aged below 12 months to read out books to their babies either during group sessions or during home-based learning sessions. Trained CFL facilitators assist parents with skills on how to effectively conduct home-based learning sessions. The programme is primarily intended to foster early language and literacy skills development among infants which is central to their overall psychosocial development as well as to promote and strengthen parent-child bonding. Furthermore, the programme endeavours to encourage parents to be more proactive in the development, growth and education of their children. The programme has been widely accepted and supported by many communities and local organisations. In 2008, for example, 28 Books for Babies programmes were implemented in Edmonton involving a total of 311 adults and 292 children.

Book Buddies Literacy Programme (BBLP)


The BBLP is an eight-week school and home-based literacy programme which aims to enhance literacy skills development among pre-school and school going children (up to grade 6) from disadvantaged communities. To this end, the programme provides books to schools and families in order to foster a reading culture among children and within families. The programme also promotes the integration of school and home-based learning activities by training parents and caregivers as literacy facilitators. In 2008, the programme benefited a number of schools in Edmonton involving a total of 679 children and 286 adults.

Books Offer Our Kids’ Success (B.O.O.K.S)


B.O.O.K.S. is an intergenerational programme which encourages parents, grandparents, and caregivers to learn (read, write, talk) and interact with preschool-aged children in ways that will prepare them for the learning activities they will encounter in future schooling. The programme is implemented through group workshops which are held once a week over a four to eight week period. Trained facilitators are responsible for mediating the learning process and therefore guide participants through a variety of literacy activities such as reading, discussions, creation of crafts and illustrations. In addition, adults are also encouraged to write stories for their children. Collectively, these learner-centred teaching methodologies are intended to support the development of literacy skills among adults and children as well as to foster parents’ confidence to bring literacy activities into the home. The programme also provides culturally relevant reading material to respective ethnic groups in order to motivate both parents and children to learn as well as to promote inter-group understanding and harmony.

Adult Tutor Programme (ATP)

The ATP is a six-month individualized literacy training programme for adults with below grade nine level reading or writing skills. The programme aims to improve participants’ literacy skills in order to enable them to effectively participate in the development of their families and communities. Following their enrolment, the learners’ needs are assessed by the CFL before being matched with a voluntary but trained literacy training facilitator. For example, in 2008, 174 students were matched with 95 volunteers. Afterwards, learners meet with their teachers once every week for a two-hour learning session. In addition to individualized literacy mentoring, the CFL also offers small group workshops tailored to the needs of students with common goals, including adults facing multiple barriers to learning, such as developmental delays, and English Language Learners (ELL).

Classroom on Wheels (COW)


Classrooms on Wheels (C.O.W.) are housed on two 38 ft buses. The programme offers mobile literacy skills training and library services to communities in Alberta. The bus attracts many families every week who are assisted with reading materials and literacy instruction from on-board facilitators. Apart from this, the COW approach is also a community-based advocacy campaign which is intended to raise public awareness on the importance of family literacy (e.g. due to the bus’ visibility) as well as to foster social interaction between community members including parents and their children within a learning context. One of the greatest advantages of the COW approach is its ability to reach out to and serve communities with limited access to literacy training opportunities and library services (such rural communities on the Prairie). For example, in 2008, COW programme assisted 2057 adults and 4109 children through once-off visits to 83 Prairie communities.

Learning Together

Learning Together is a free, intensive family literacy programme that runs twice a week for 9 months, and is attended by parents and children together. Throughout Learning Together, parents improve their own reading and writing skills and learn how to support their pre-school children’s literacy and language development, while the children benefit from an enriched early childhood programme that promotes acquisition of the skills necessary for future learning success. Parents and children either attend learning sessions together or separately depending on the nature of learning activities. The adult-focused component of the programme covers a wide range of topics including: learning styles and multiple intelligences, the value of creative play, self-esteem, positive parenting and health education. To build on the strengths and draw from the interests of its adult learners, the content of the programme is shaped by the questions, suggestions, and abilities of parents.

The Centre provides subsidies for transportation and childcare to enable full participation. In 2008, 10 families completed the programme, and though the programme is taught in English, participants’ primary languages included Vietnamese, Chinese, Cantonese, Filipino, and Tagalog. Learning Together is funded by Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, Community Programs, and delivered in partnership with an existing elementary school.

Rhymes that Bind

‘Rhymes that Bind’ is an oral language development programme that targets parents with children below the age of 3 years. It aims to promote positive parenting skills through dances, songs, and simple movement games involving parents and their children. The programme runs once a week for ten weeks, introducing parents to the various ways in which they can foster their children’s early literacy and language skills development.

Facilitators model positive parenting throughout the programme and offer practical and social support to participants when possible; parents with more extensive needs are encouraged to access other community supports. In 2008, 28 programmes were delivered to a total of 1004 adults and 1203 children, in partnership with 13 community agencies.



The concept of a Storysack as a learning tool was first popularized by British educator and author, Neil Griffiths. A Storysack is a large cloth bag with a good quality children’s book and accompanying activities that bring the book to life. When used in the family context, Storysacks are an excellent way to support the early literacy and language development of children. The included activities are enjoyable for both parent and child.

Aboriginal Storysacks programmes offered by the CFL are attended by parents, elders and other community members who participate in the creation of props, scenery, and characters that enhance a selected children’s book over the course of four to ten weekly sessions. Programme length varies according to the interest and enthusiasm of participants. Once completed, the Storysack is housed in a central location and loaned to parents or used by a community organization. In 2008, CFL offered 2 Storysacks programs and used Storysacks within the Aboriginal community in Edmonton to build relationships, facilitate storytelling and tap into interest in crafting and creating props.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The CFL employs an outcome-based approach for evaluating the impact and challenges of the programme as well as the participants’ learning progress. In general, CFL employs formal and informal monitoring and evaluation methods, encompassing the use of evaluation surveys (questionnaires) and group discussions between learners, facilitators and CFL officials. Internal official evaluation is conducted by facilitators (by submitting reports on their field activities as well as by assessing the participants’ ability to write, read and comprehend literature) and by programme coordinators and CFL management team through field observation visits.

Besides these internal monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, the FLTP is also evaluated by external experts on an annual basis in line with CFL’s contractual obligations with its funding partners. The external evaluation process provides qualitative and quantitative data on programme impact, challenges and makes recommendations for programme improvement. These annual reports are available to the public:

Lessons Learned

Programme Sustainability

Several factors suggest that the long-term sustainability of the FLTP is not in doubt. Firstly, since its initiation in the mid-1990s, the FLTPs continue to grow in popularity and demand. Secondly, the CFL has also expanded the reach and scope of its literacy programmes by establishing functional relationships with communities, CBOs and other institutional partners. In particular, because the CFL has encouraged strong community participation, most people support its activities and often volunteer to facilitate the implementation of the programmes.



Jonna Grad
Executive Director
Address: 201 — 11456 Jasper Avenue NW Edmonton
AB Canada T5KOM1
Phone: (780) 421-7323
Fax: (780) 421-7324
Email: info (at) or Website:

Last update: 6 February 2012