GUEST EDITORIAL: Enhancing literacy innovation in the North: The Northern Alliance for Literacy and Essential Skills

Kim Crockatt with Helen Balanoff & Beth Mulloy

In today’s world we think about literacy differently than we did in the past. Literacy used to mean only reading and writing (usually in English). Today it means much more. It includes all the basic skills that people need for life, and it reflects the cultures and society that we live in. This makes literacy, and the work of literacy organizations, complex; yet this work is essential to alleviating the challenges of poverty, productivity, and social and economic development in the North. Literacy impacts the well-being of individuals, families and communities. It is integral to the workforce and to the effectiveness of education and training programs.

Evidence that Ilitaqsiniq-the Nunavut Literacy Council, the NWT Literacy Council, and the Yukon Literacy Coalition have collected demonstrates that changes in policy and practice to reflect this newer understanding of literacy, such as contextualizing literacy programs, can substantially improve the literacy levels of Northerners and increase economic growth. Learners of all ages need a variety of formal and non-formal, long-term, stable, and predictable programs in order to reach their potential.

While the challenges seem daunting, across the North inspiring approaches and programs are flourishing. This was evident at the Made in the North Policy and Practice Exchange held in October 2012. The exchange, organized by the three Northern literacy coalitions, was an opportunity to discuss common challenges and innovative solutions. One hundred and forty policy makers, employers, adult educators, First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders and others working in the literacy and essential skills field came together for this three day event. Participants shared innovative approaches that were contextualized to meet the needs and interests of the learners.

Despite considerable evidence that these programs are effective, they lack scale. Most operate on short-term, project-based funding, or operate as pilot projects with no real means of sustainability. Organizations that deliver such programs often have limited capacity. All three Northern literacy coalitions have a strong focus on empowering community members to design and deliver programs, and they spend much of their time seeking funding to create more sustainable programming.

This is an exciting time in the North. There is a renewed sense of growth and optimism. Made in the North confirmed for all of us the need to create a network to share our ideas, expertise and energy. It also confirmed that changes in policy and practice can substantially improve the well-being of Northerners. As a result, the three literacy coalitions have formed the Northern Alliance for Literacy and Essential Skills, or NALES. The goal is to build on our existing network to share knowledge, resources and research, and foster innovation in the field of literacy and essential skills.

Complex Northern issues require made in the North, community-driven approaches. Through NALES we are building a network to connect all the key stakeholders who have important roles to play in the work of building strong resilient communities.◉

Kim Crockatt is the Executive Director of Ilitaqsiniq – Nunavut Literacy Council. Helen Balanoff is the Executive Director of the Northwest Territories Literacy Council. Beth Mulloy is the Executive Director of the Yukon Literacy Coalition.


Photo credit: Northern Public Affairs.

Views of the Mary Hakongak Community Library and Cultural Centre, October 2013. Photo credit: Northern Public Affairs.

Views of the Mary Hakongak Community Library and Cultural Centre, October 2013.
Photo credit: Northern Public Affairs.