The notion of literacy as a social determinate is evidenced in a recent national study, Literacy and Essential Skills as a Poverty Reduction Strategy (2019), by Frontier College and funded by the Government of Canada which asserted “Literacy skills are necessary to complete even the most basic tasks in a person’s life. Taken a step further, literacy can empower individuals to make informed choices about their lives” (Frontier College, 2019, p. 2). The OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) states that “Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society” (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], n.d.). In a research study on Indigenous literacy, practitioners noted that literacy was viewed holistically as “part of everyday life” (Antone et al., 2003, p. 22). The researchers also noted that literacy “is reflected in the ability to communicate and, while it includes reading, writing and numeracy, ‘spiritual and emotional literacy’ are integral. Broadly speaking, it is ‘a journey’ in which learning enables the person to be free to achieve and to maximize her self-development potential for the good of society as a whole” (Antone et al., 2003, p. 22).
Neoliberal policies stronghold the eligibility and suitability criteria required to access the adult literacy program in Ontario creating differentiated access for racialized and Indigenous communities. Research by Lucas and Schecter (1992) introduces the notion of educational equity as the unbiased access for all learners to the skills and knowledge that the program is intended to provide regardless of gender, race, class, Indigenous identity, poverty, and/or citizenship status. Stone (2012) posits that “Beyond formal rules that exclude people outright, informal practices can covertly exclude” ( p. 44). With regards to the LBS program, differentiated access policies exist to the extent that most practitioners quickly assess people “that inquire at their program as potential clients or not potential clients” (Ramsay et al., 2010, p. 27). This quick analysis occurs alongside a set of known suitability indicators. Contrast this practice with a study into Employment Ontario’s LBS program concluded that services reach only 1% of adults who could benefit from skills training (Cathexis, 2016) and it is evident that numerous learners who would benefit from literacy services are not accessing LBS programs.