Ontario’s Community Literacy Agencies : Great Places to Learn!

Ontario’s Community literacy agencies are truly “shining across Ontario”. They are busy, successful places that effectively deliver literacy and basic skills training to a large number of people in communities large and small across this province.

The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) provides funding for 105 English language community literacy agencies in Ontario. These agencies help adult learners improve their literacy and numeracy skills in learner-centred, community-based settings. They offer quality training that addresses individual needs. Programming occurs in a wide variety of locations, including literacy offices, community centres and libraries. In 2005/2006, community literacy agencies delivered training to almost 16,000 adult students.

Students in community literacy agencies improve their literacy skills in a number of ways, but the two most popular types of learning are one-to-one tutoring (offered by 92% of agencies) and small group instruction (offered by 90% of agencies). Instruction is offered by paid staff and trained volunteers.

Ontario’s community literacy agencies are extremely resourceful. In addition to core funding received from MTCU, community literacy agencies usually receive additional funding support from such sources as community fundraising, donations from local business, corporations and individuals, fee for service initiatives (for example plain language editing), the Trillium foundation, the United Way or other community foundations, and funding from other provincial and federal government sources.

Ontario’s community literacy agencies receive training, access to resources, networking opportunities and other services from Community Literacy of Ontario, their regional literacy networks and the Ontario Literacy Coalition. Agencies that are Laubach-affiliated are also supported by Laubach Literacy Ontario.

Community literacy agencies are usually self-governing organizations that are overseen by a local volunteer board of directors. However, some operate under a multi-service agency or library. What agencies all have in common is that they are great places to learn!

Learner-centred Approach

Community literacy agencies strive to meet the needs of adult learners in a quality, non-threatening and supportive environment. Agencies recognize that lower level students often progress at a slower pace and may need more support and that individual tutoring or small groups can meet their needs.

Agencies use methods, curriculum, materials and program models that respond to the needs of individual adult students. Also key to community-based literacy instruction is a flexible and participatory approach. Learner needs are considered at every step and learners are meaningfully involved in agency operations. Different levels of instruction are offered and a variety of instructional strategies are used. Self-esteem and self-confidence are recognized as being integral to student success and agencies value all student goals equally: independence, employment and further training.

Flexible and Innovative Programming

Community literacy agencies recognize that adult learners have unique needs and challenges. In response, programs adapt to meet the varied economic and societal pressures faced by adult students. Instruction is offered free-of-charge, intake is usually continuous and program timing is flexible to meet the needs and commitments of adults with outside obligations. Employment, childcare and transportation issues are taken into consideration when planning a learner’s individual program.

Agencies offer more than just reading and writing instruction; they may also explore life skills, health issues, budgeting, family literacy and employment.

Programming is offered using a variety of approaches including individualized and small group instruction, computer-based learning or a combination of various methods. The learning environment is friendly, relaxed and non-threatening. The opportunity to pursue their goals in an informal atmosphere is very appealing to adult learners.

“Face” of Literacy

Community literacy agencies are very active in their communities and help raise the profile of literacy. The various initiatives that they undertake, such as open houses, mall promotions and booths at community events increase public awareness of literacy and programming options. For example, 90% of agencies give presentations, 87% attend community events and 77% hold promotional events. Many agencies also receive support through community and corporate donations.

Based in the Community

Community literacy agencies are closely linked to their communities. As a result, agencies have an excellent awareness of local literacy needs and challenges. Networking within the community results in strong support and referral networks. Partnerships are also important. In fact, 90% of community literacy agencies partner with other local organizations, 77% partner with Ontario Works, 50% partner with community service clubs and 45% partner with local employers.