Before looking in more detail at the specifics of Ontario and British Columbia it is useful to review the broader context of Pan-Canadian literacy work. In Canada education is a provincial and territorial responsibility, so when Ottawa has wanted to develop or support these services it has done so through the application of two strategies. One was to call literacy “workforce development,” the other was to focus on research and pilot programs rather than delivery. The development of initiatives spanning the country is relatively recent, and the term “Pan-Canadian” is used to signal that a single national approach would not be politically viable nor would it recognize the extremely significant regional variations across Canada. In addition, Francophone Canadians can often feel frozen out of such discussions because of the domination of Anglophones and Anglo-American ideas.
The explosion of interest in Pan-Canadian approaches is probably driven to some extent by the establishment of a number of research networks, such as the Canadian Council on Learning. These networks do not have to be as sensitive to the federal-provincial-territorial divide as the previously influential National Literacy Secretariat had to be, and can work across jurisdictions more easily. It is likely that the International Adult Literacy Survey and its successors, which suggested that all areas of Canada had the same sort of issues regarding literacy, were also important factors.
In this brief review, the first publication of note is Towards a Fully Literate
Canadaii from 2005. This report states that the committee
that the Federal Government is well-placed to provide partnership-based leadership
respectful of the jurisdictions of other levels of government” (p.3). One of the seven
principles of the proposed Pan-Canadian literacy strategy was to “
measure and report on
results” (p.4), and community consultation suggested that “
literacy objectives should be economic
but also social, cultural or personal” (p.19). However, this latter point is not expanded upon
within the report, which simply suggests that the system should be “
results-based and should not
be supported solely on the basis of ‘numbers served’” (p.32).
In 2005, a Pan-Canadian survey of the assessment practices of 380 educators was conductediii. This showed some significant patterns in the practices used in different sectors. Authentic assessments, where learners demonstrated that they could perform the actual task they were learning to perform, were used by two-thirds of colleges and community based programs and 85% of workplace programs. Standardized assessments were used by 63% of college educators, but only 31% of community educators and 8% of workplace programs. Competency-based assessment, where skills are assessed directly, were used by about one quarter of all programs. A number of developments in the last few years, including the development of essential skills frameworks, may well have changed these proportions.