Information on Literacy

Why is Literacy Important?

Exposure to books and reading in the first years of life increases the probability of healthy child development and decreases the chance of school failure.

  • Children whose parents read to them in the first 18 months of life have improved vocabulary and comprehension skills.
  • Factors associated with increased reading to infants include the availability of books in the home as well as educational and income levels of the parents.
  • Programs designed to support stimulating environments for the first few years of life for disadvantaged children have shown many positive benefits including higher educational attainment, improved employment levels, improved earnings, decreased welfare dependence as well as lower crime rates.

The focus on early childhood literacy is important to potentially impact the physical and mental health and economic condition of northern Saskatchewan people.

  • Many children who begin Kindergarten or Grade 1 with reading difficulties ultimately struggle in school.
  • Along with school failure, literacy problems lead to poor self-esteem, truancy and dropping out.
  • Low literacy puts young adults at higher risk of early pregnancy, drug and alcohol use and criminal activity.
  • Ultimately, adults with low literacy skill have lower economic potential.
  • Literacy is also linked to mental health and addictions. Individuals with lower literacy drink more units of alcohol and are more likely to smoke than those with higher levels.
  • Women with low literacy skills were five times more likely than those with average or good literacy skills to be depressed.i

Reading impacts not only academic success but also emotional and social wellbeing. There is evidence to suggest young people's amount of reading has a positive impact on social skills and community participation.ii

  • "In any society, education links to health. Gains in education produce gains in health. Education increases opportunities for income and job security. It also equips people with coping skills needed to identify and solve individual and group problems. One's level of education is also widely seen as an indicator of socioeconomic status. Learning, however, does not take place exclusively in schools or during school hours. Families also pass on knowledge and skills that people need to thrive." This increase in coping skills and thriving is an important link to a decrease in substance abuse.iii


In 2004, 45% of northerners aged 20-34 years had not finished high school, more than double the 21.8% in all of Saskatchewan at that time.iv

In 1995, Literacy problems cost Canadian employers $4 billion/year and the country $10 billion/year.v


  1. Dugdale, G. and Clark C. (2008). Literacy changes lives:An advocacy resource. London: National Literacy Trust.
  2. Guthrie Schafer and Hutchinson, 1991, cited in Finn, 2008
  3. Northern Saskatchewan Health Indicators Report 2004, Population Health Unit, Athatbasca Health Authority, Keewatin Yatthé Regional Health Authority, Mamawetan Churchill River Regional Health Authority pg 24
  4. Ibid pg 26
  5. Adult Literacy Survey of Statistics Canada, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1995