Man submitting his voting ballot

How literacy affects civic engagement

Working collaboratively to improve society is one of the most significant ways to be a good citizen, and having strong civic literacy skills helps make that happen. The more educated we are, the more likely we are to vote and participate in civic engagement, which is crucial to the health of our communities.

What is civic engagement?

Civic engagement – or improving the quality of life in a community through political and non-political actions – helps address community problems. It’s the skill of listening to a community’s needs and responding appropriately while realizing bold visions for the future.

Civic engagement seeks to address several key aspects of society: family life, the economy, education, health, the environment and politics. Also known as community engagement, it can include everything from attending local events to volunteering to participating in the voting process.

Civic engagement involves local leaders and residents working together to solve public problems, improve a community or address broader social issues. There’s often knowledge sharing, open dialogue and collective awareness that civic engagement is critical for the success of a community.

What is civic literacy?

To participate in making change in your community, you need the proper skills, tools and knowledge – also known as civic literacy skills.

When we’re civically literate, we have a better awareness of our political interests and how to advance them. We’re more likely to evaluate different political views, which helps create more inclusive politics. We can help improve society by holding the government accountable and working collectively with other citizens to advocate for change.

Despite the opportunities to increase civic literacy, civic engagement is decreasing. This study from The Samara Centre for Democracy showed that just 60 per cent of Canadians knew their premier in 2015 – a substantial drop from the 90 per cent who did in 1984.

The relationship between civic literacy and civic engagement

Our communities become better places to live when we can all come together to get involved. But it can be next to impossible to participate in civic engagement without the proper civic literacy skills.

Unfortunately, in Canada, civic literacy is poor. Over half of Canadians are unaware of how the prime minister is elected, and only 24 per cent can correctly name our head of state. In addition, almost 20 per cent of Canadians don’t pay attention to the news.

Without this knowledge, it’s difficult for Canadians to stay up-to-date on the latest social issues and organizational processes. Lacking proper literacy skills also means it’s easier to become misinformed and digest and share fake or false news.

Although there’s limited research on how civic literacy affects civic engagement, independent studies have shown that youth engaged in social issues in the classroom are more likely to become voters. And voting is one fundamental way to make change happen effectively.

Improving civic literacy skills

Amongst our various free programs, we offer civic voting resources which include helpful information on voting basics and the accessibility resources available. Learn more about this literacy program and countless others by visiting our website.