The Rise and Fall of Adult Literacy: Policy Lessons from Canada


  • Maren Elfert King’s College London, United Kingdom
  • Jude Walker University of British Columbia, Canada



Adult literacy, Canada, IALS, mainstreaming, policy


There was a period of time, from the late 1980s until the early/mid-2000s, when interest in adult literacy in Canada was strong among the public, in the media, and with policymakers, and a policy window opened for the mainstreaming of literacy. Against this background, it is surprising that the Canadian literacy infrastructure was subsequently_x000D_
largely dismantled. Drawing on theories of policy formation, and recent and previous research, including interviews with key stakeholders, we argue that mainstreaming literacy has failed and explore the reasons for this failure. The paper is structured in three sections. First, we report on the construction of an adult literacy infrastructure in Canada over two phases: i) the period from the 1970s up until the launch of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) in 1994; ii) the story of IALS and changes occurring up until around 2005. Second, we examine the reasons for the failure of the mainstreaming of literacy in Canada. We conclude with further reflections on the present situation in which adult literacy has been largely reduced to employability skills which are under-supported.


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How to Cite

Elfert, M., & Walker, J. (2020). The Rise and Fall of Adult Literacy: Policy Lessons from Canada. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 11(1), 109–125.