A,B… uh… F?: Literacy in Oakville

It’s as easy as A, B, C… or is it? According to The Excellence in Literacy Foundation, 42 per cent of Canadians are only semi-literate. They lack the skills required to read advertisements, legal documents, the news or even this story.

Adrian Fellows was such a Canadian. After immigrating to Canada from Jamaica at the age of 18, Fellows realized how much he needed basic skills such as reading and writing while trying to get a job.


“I couldn’t read. I was worse than a child in grade one.” Although he had the opportunity to go to school as a child, Fellows didn’t attend. At a young age, he didn’t think that being able to read and write was important. He eventually realized his mistake, but not until much later.

“I was going to apply for jobs and I had to bring a friend with me to help me fill out the forms. It was really bad,” he said.

Luckily for him, the same friend who had been helping him to fill out work applications realized that he needed a more permanent kind of help. She quickly referred him to the Oakville Literary Council (OLC), an organization dedicated to helping adults in Oakville learn to read, write, do math and use computers. Fellows was quickly matched up with a tutor, and immediately began lessons. After just one year of study, Fellows went from being unable to sing his ABC’s to reading at a grade nine level.

“In this world, education is the most important thing,” said Fellows. “Without education, you have nothing. People who don’t have an education get trapped in a bad cycle of dead-end jobs, and they can’t get out because they don’t know how. But the OLC teaches you to function on your own.”

Ann Bowman, the president  and a member of the OLC’s board of directors, strongly recommends the program for anyone struggling with learning.

“We have great success with this program, and I think it succeeds so well because of the quality, one-on-one tutoring that we offer. It’s completely free, and we have a really dedicated staff.”

Bowman also has a personal connection with the program. As a first generation Canadian, she witnessed her parents’ struggle with English.

“My siblings and I had to help my parents because they had this inability to read English. I decided to volunteer with the OLC because illiteracy is an issue that’s very close to my heart.”- said Bowman

The OLC is entirely volunteer-run, and focused on bringing one-on-one tutoring to every individual that needs help. They rely on donations, grants and events such as their annual book sale to keep themselves running.

Photo credit: cvconnell / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Photo credit: cvconnell / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

“Every cent we make is poured back into our programs,” said Bowman. “It’s a very expensive approach we take with our tutoring and free services, but it really pays off. Any impact on literacy is important. Even just helping one or two adults to be more literate makes an impact, because a disproportionate amount of the people using food banks or ending up in prison are illiterate. What we’re doing really affects a community.”

But what can Oakville do to help? By volunteering with the OLC to become a tutor, making a donation to the organization, or referring someone you know who might need help to the organization.   

After taking classes at OLC, Fellows can now read and write. He was accepted into college and is now a family room coordinator at the Credit Valley Hospital.

“If I could do it, anyone can do it,” says Fellows. “I thought there was no hope for me, but now I’m working a job I love, and always learning. I’d like to encourage other adults out there to come forward and try this program … I know I would not be where I am today without the help of the Oakville Literacy Council.”



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Readers Comments (1)

  1. Ann Bowman says:

    Oakville Literacy Council is very thankful for students like Adrian who are willing to share their success stories about their learning experience. However, we want everyone to know that we guard the privacy of all our adult learners with great care and do not disclose any information without their permission. Also, literacy refers to skills that sit on a wide spectrum of abilities and skills regarding the finding, understanding and dissemination of information. Our students come to us with varying abilities on this spectrum, but all with a desire and need to upgrade their skills to better their lives.

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