Literacy, Essential Skills and Foundational Learning: Are They All The Same?
by Lorene Anderson, Literacy & Essentials Skills Specialist and Calgary Learns Board Member
We often hear these three terms used to describe our work in adult learning. Literacy, essential skills and foundational learning are closely related, but they are not the same thing. Here is a quick primer to the show how they are connected.
The Alberta government report, Living Literacy: A framework for Alberta’s next generation economy, gives a good definition of literacy in its broadest scope:
“Literacy is not just about reading and writing. While reading and writing provide the necessary foundation for learning, literacy is fundamentally about an individual’s capacity to put his/her skills to work in shaping the course of his or her own life. Literacy involves ‘reading the word and the world’ in a variety of contexts. Individuals need literacy skills to obtain and use information effectively, to act as informed players and to manage interactions in a variety of contexts (ex. Making decisions about health care, parenting, managing household finances, engaging in the political process or working).”
While the above definition gives us a description of literacy, it doesn’t break it down into specific components or skills. That’s where the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Essential Skills Framework comes into play. These nine skills are like Velcro—the skills to which all other learning sticks. They are the skills we need for learning all other skills in the workplace, our communities and in life. They enable us to evolve and adapt to a changing world. Here the nine essential skills:
- Oral communication
- Working with others
- Document use (e.g. forms, maps, tables, graphs)
- Digital literacy
- Continues learning (knowing how to learn)
- Thinking skills (problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, task planning and organizing, significant use of memory and finding information)
How many of these skills did you use today? How many do you use every day? Each of these skills can be used in many different contexts at different levels of complexity.
The term foundational learning refers to the nine essential skills at their lower or foundational levels of complexity. Just as the word ‘foundational’ suggests, this is where the building of skills begins. Calgary Learns supports foundational learning for adults - that is our core work.
Calgary Learns works to meet foundational adult learners wherever they appear in our changing learning landscape - parenting programs, citizenship education, computer training. We do this through our funding and through building the capacity of community educators to meet learner needs.