None left behind: Empowering literacy students in a digital world

Friday, September 8: Happy International Literacy Day! The focus for the UNESCO day of note this year is Literacy in a Digital World, a theme that is close to our hearts at CIES as we launch our newest program, CALL: Computer Access for Literacy Learners.

“Digital technologies permeate all spheres of our lives, fundamentally shaping how we live, work, learn and socialize,” says UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in her message for the Day. She emphasizes the importance of rethinking and improving skills required to take part in the digital world: “These new technologies are opening vast new opportunities to improve our lives and connect globally—but they can also marginalize those who lack the essential skills, like literacy, needed to navigate them.”

In the age-old story, newcomers to Canada often find themselves facing the one-two punch that is navigating a new language and a new society, and the hurdles are especially high for those who had limited or no access to formal education in their home countries. While newcomers often come from countries with rich oral traditions and long histories, a lack of formal education often translates to a lack of basic literacy skills (ie. reading and writing), which makes learning English even more difficult. And without the bedrock ability to read and write, independently navigating a new society and the technology it takes for granted can leave newcomers and low-income populations behind.

Think about it – in Canada, we use myriad technologies for nearly every step of our waking day, from the cell phone alarms that wake us up, to the computer-based Excel spreadsheets we build at work, to the Skype calls we take with family and friends from far away. But how would you begin to navigate all of these pieces of technology without ever having touched them before, let alone be shown how to use them? How would you teach yourself to use an expensive piece of equipment if you didn’t know how to read the manual or couldn’t understand the YouTube tutorial someone found for you? Canadians take for granted the early exposure to technology we receive, and our ability to read and write, which we’ve seemingly had nearly our whole lives. We often forget how fortunate we are.

In an effort to address this imbalance and empower literacy learners, CIES’ new program, Computer Access for Literacy Learners, provides essential computer literacy skills to literacy-level, economically disadvantaged, low skilled and unemployed newcomer and Canadian adults residing in the Forest Lawn and Whitehorn communities. Over 30 hours, the program features hands-on learning activities delivered in a friendly and demonstrative style by an experienced literacy-level instructor. Students will learn about basic computer operation, the use of essential software, internet search, email and basic social media communication, and learn how to complete other real-life technology-based tasks. It addresses the combined barriers of computer and language literacy, empowering newcomers in the lower range of LINC proficiency levels (select students from Literacy 3-4 and CLB 1-2) with fundamental digital technology skills essential in gaining a footing in Canadian society. The program’s intended simplicity will also make it accessible and useful for more established Calgarians who seek to gain essential computer access training.

To be eligible for the CALL program, potential students must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at a Foundation Literacy 3-4 level, up to CLB 1-2
  • Have legal status that will allow them to study in Canada for a short-term, 10-week course
  • Possess limited computer and digital technology skills

This course is 100% free for low-income individuals. A $75 course fee will apply for non-low-income individuals.

To learn more and to apply, visit the CALL site here.

This program is generously funded by:


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