Fostering literacy, offering opportunity


Literacy is a skill that opens the doors to opportunity for Canadians and increases their chances of success in the modern world. Organizations such as Decoda Literacy Solutions in Vancouver show their commitment to literacy and learning through their work in the community.

Decoda Literacy Solutions was born on May 30, 2011 as a result of the partnering of two local literacy organizations: Literacy BC and the literacy department of 2010 Legacies Now. Literacy BC had previously offered training, resources, tools, and support for adult literacy, while the literacy department worked with the Province of British Columbia to help develop literacy in communities across the province. Decoda continues the efforts of both organizations, providing resources, training, and community-based literacy programs to over 400 communities province-wide.

“Our mission is to increase the literacy and learning skills of children and families, youth, adults and seniors to improve their quality of life at home, at work and in the community,” says Margaret Sutherland, executive director of Decoda Literacy Solutions.

Literacy Month events

This year marks Decoda’s 5th Annual Literacy Month. The B.C. literacy organization will be putting on a number of activities in September based on their theme, Fostering Literacy.

Among Decoda’s key initiatives include a Literacy Matters Fact Sheet and Infographic, a Fostering Literacy Tips Calendar featuring tips on ways to nurture literacy for each day of the month, and a Celebrate Literacy Month Contest. Decoda staff will also be offering tips on ways to foster literacy at home and in the community during public service announcements aired on CBC Vancouver throughout the month.

“Our vision is a British Columbia where everyone has the literacy skills they need,” says Sutherland.

B.C. mayors and city councils will also be making Literacy Month proclamations, and B.C. landmark buildings will commemorate International Literacy Day on September 8th by lighting up purple.

“Purple is the colour for literacy,” says Sutherland. “We are encouraging everyone to #PutOnYourPurple and upload a picture on Twitter or Facebook, using the hashtags #PutOnYourPurple, #FosteringLiteracy and #LiteracyMonth.”

More than words

Literacy can be defined in part as having aptitudes for reading, writing and oral communication. As Sutherland explains, however, literacy also encompasses some skill sets that are less commonly associated with the term, including numeracy and technology skills.

“Essentially, literacy is a set of skills we use every day to get things done,” says Sutherland. “Literacy affects every aspect of our lives.”

For example, Sutherland states that individuals with stronger literacy skills tend to be healthier due to their better understanding of health information and consequent ability to act on it. These individuals are also better equipped to handle their own finances, are more likely to take part in adult education, and generally find it easier to communicate in today’s technological society.

Sutherland adds that literate individuals are more likely to find work and maintain the employment they need to support their families. Parents with stronger literacy skills are also better able to help their children with their schoolwork and literacy development.

“Imagine the struggle for a parent without strong literacy skills –
it is harder to support your children’s learning and interact with the school system,” comments Sutherland.

This is where some of Decoda’s literacy services come into play.

“Family Literacy programs can have a lasting impact – teaching parents how to support their children’s literacy development, helping struggling school-age readers and providing opportunities for parents to improve their own literacy skills,” Sutherland explains.

Community-based literacy

Decoda employs a delivery method referred to as community-based literacy. This non-formal system of learning takes place in many locations and targets a wide range of demographics, from babies to seniors, in a variety of ways.

As Sutherland explains, community-based literacy uses a “place-based” approach, in which each community finds its own way to address its unique needs. Programs can take place in different settings, such as literacy centres, public libraries, schools or workplaces.

Decoda supports this system through a network of 100 Literacy Outreach Coordinators (LOC), who each connect with a literacy task group. Together, the LOC and task group plan and implement literacy programs and services tailored to the needs of a specific B.C. community. In addition, Decoda delivers weekly updates, projects, training, resources, webinars and opportunities to communities across the province. For example, their resource lending library, which contains specialized collections on literacy, learning, English language acquisition, and community development, is free for B.C. residents to access.

For newcomers to Canada, Decoda offers a culturally responsive family literacy program known as Parents as Literacy Supporters in Immigrant Communities (IPALS). The goal of IPALS is to help immigrant and refugee families settle into their new community and provide parents with strategies to nurture their children’s literacy growth.

Sutherland is well aware of the impact that Decoda and other community-based literacy organizations have on the lives of the many individuals they serve.

“Each year, when we receive the community’s reports, we hear stories about how participating in community-based literacy programs and accessing services has changed people’s lives,” she says. “Many adults find work or improve their current work situations. Others develop skills they need for their day-to-day lives. Many become better integrated in their communities.”

For more information about Decoda Literacy Solutions, visit