Decoda Literacy Conference 2024 highlights

At the sixth biennial Decoda Literacy Conference, held in Richmond from April 17-19, more than 200 literacy practitioners and industry leaders shared in professional development, networking and inspiration.  Themed “Literacy: The Ripple Effect,” the conference addressed how low literacy impacts BC communities and offered 30 diverse learning session choices.

Highlights were a BC Literacy Strategy Panel Discussion and keynote speakers: Canadian economist Craig Alexander and The Marine Detective Jackie Hildering.

Indigenous Welcome

Two images. Left: A man and a woman embracing hands. Right: A man speaking at a microphone.

Musqueam Elder Dr. Larry Grant provided a traditional welcome to Musqueam territory and invited conference attendees to carry a strong, open heart and mind in their work and their lives.

Keynote Presentation: Economist Craig Alexander

Two images side by side. Left: Craig speaking into a microphone. Right: Ralf St. Clair and Craig shaking hands.

Many challenges facing BC communities are directly linked to low literacy levels, said Canadian economist Craig Alexander. He highlighted the economic impact of literacy, stressing its potential to boost productivity and income.

 “A 1% increase in literacy scores could lead to a 3% increase in labour productivity and income per capita. It would increase income in the neighbourhood of something between $40 and $80 billion. It’s more than just about money. It’s about creating a better and healthier society. And I actually think it can improve the political and democratic process.” – Craig Alexander

To accomplish this, Alexander suggests, “We need to upskill the labor force, and we need to ensure that workers have the ability and the scope to maximize their skill sets. In other words, get rid of the barriers.”

Panel discussion on BC Literacy Strategy

A panel discussion, spanning multiple government ministries and sectors delved into the far-reaching effects of low literacy on everything from health to jobs. Dr. Ralf St. Clair, Chair of the Decoda Literacy Board of Directors, facilitated the discussion aimed at developing a provincial literacy strategy to tackle the issue and build community resilience.

The panel included:

  • Canadian economist Craig Alexander
  • Attorney General Niki Sharma
  • Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey
  • Health and Safety Centre for the BC Federation of Labour Executive Director Ishani Weera
  • Decoda board chair and University of Victoria Professor Ralf St. Clair,
  • Research Director, Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, Shawn de Raaf

Insights from panel participants

A woman speaking into a microphoneBC Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Minister Brenda Bailey shared how literacy is important to their mandate and work.

“Participating in the panel was enlightening,” said Bailey. “Craig Alexander’s insights into the economic data related to literacy were thought-provoking and reaffirmed our commitment to supporting literacy programs across the province.” – Brenda Bailey Minister of BC Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation


A woman speaking into s microphoneIshani Weera, Executive Director at the Health and Safety Centre for the BC Federation of Labour said unions are advocating for literacy and for building training into contract negotiations and benefits for workers.

“Literacy learning is lifelong and iterative, but it’s also a right and we need to start thinking about it in those terms. It’s not just exclusively a charitable endeavor, but something that everyone deserves access to.” – Ishani Weera, Executive Director at the Health and Safety Centre for the BC Federation of Labour

Ishani also emphasized the need for providing information in plain language. “If safety is important to us, if injury prevention is important to us, we have to talk about it plainly. And that’s not just for folks with literacy challenges, it’s for people that are busy, it’s for low-income people that are working multiple jobs and have childcare obligations. We have to consider all of those things. So that plain language piece has to be paired with literacy at the same time.”

Decoda’s executive director Sandra Lee said the discussion panel was a first step towards a unified BC literacy strategy.

“We often talk of changing the world – these conversations, underpinned by literacy, are a very good start. Governments, businesses and organizations working together and investing in literacy will make a difference in people’s lives and make communities in British Columbia more resilient.” – Sandra Lee, Executive Director, Decoda Literacy Solutions

Learn how literacy programs helped an immigrant mother

Learn how education reduces inmates’ risk of re-offending


Professional Development Sessions

At the pre-conference on April 17, 32 attendees participated in all-day sessions on one of four topics:

  • Parents As Literacy Supporters Facilitators Training
  • Plain Language: What is it and why do we need It?
  • Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples Training
  • Financial Support for Non-Financial Managers

During the April 18 and 19 conference sessions, 207 attendees selected from 30 topics covering diverse subjects such as social issues, neuroinclusive teaching, community engagement and capacity building to specific programming like digital literacy, junior journalists and collective kitchens, to organization support topics like fundraising, communication tools and artificial intelligence.

Inspiring Conclusion

A collage showing the presenter, presentation slides and crowd.

Jackie Hildering (aka The Marine Detective) wrapped up the conference with an inspiring presentation about human capacity for positive change. She talked about how attitudes and actions can change for the better when knowledge replaces fear, ignorance and disconnect.

Only a few decades ago Orcas were vilified and shot, and Humpbacks were killed in industrial whaling. Research and learning have made people understand their importance with most people caring, not just about the species, but about individual whales. She emphasized how overwhelm and fear can be countered by seeing the common solutions to socio-environmental problems.

“Increasing literacy and critical thinking increases empowerment and counters inequality, poverty, and further downward forces that do not serve the wellbeing of life on earth.” – Jackie Hildering, The Marine Detective and Co-founder of Marine Education & Research Society.

Jackie encouraged literacy practitioners to follow their passion, acknowledge their contributions and know that they are making a difference in their communities. She wrapped up with a powerful slideshow of her underwater photography and received a standing ovation.

“Jackie showed us that everything we do has an impact and we don’t always realize the ripple effect we can have. Be brave, be courageous, and that will make the most difference.” – Kelly Anderson, Literacy Outreach Coordinator, Mount Waddington Family Literacy Society


We are grateful to the following organizations for participating as conference exhibitors to share their learning resources:

We are grateful for the continued support of the Decoda Literacy Conference from WorkSafeBC and the Province of British Columbia.

Six headshots of board members.

Thank you to our board of directors who guide Decoda staff:

  • Ralf St. Clair, Chair
  • Manmeet Bhatia, Secretary-Treasurer
  • Pat Campbell, Director
  • Tracy Defoe, Director
  • Lynn Green, Director
  • Eunice Bantok, Director

Special thanks to Dr. Ralf St. Clair for joining us at the conference to facilitate the panel discussion, and to Tracy Defoe and Lynn Green for attending!

Meet the board and learn more about why they are passionate about supporting literacy


Survey results reveal an overall satisfaction from conference attendees.

  • 75% were “very satisfied” with the conference.
  • 78% were “very satisfied” with the pre-conference.

A collage of people wearing purple and holding purple props

Quotes from survey participants about what was most valuable at the conference

“I had a few big “AHA” moments at the conference and left excited about implementing new ideas and methods into my work.”

“What incredible learning opportunities. There were so many great topics it was hard to choose which ones I wanted to attend. The facilitators were amazing and so knowledgeable. Also, so amazing to have such an impressive panel that Decoda arranged. That was incredible!”

“This was my first time attending the conference. There was so much information and connection that I got from attending! I had no idea how valuable it would be for me. It was fantastic!”

“I appreciated the abundance of learning and also the networking I was able to do with others from around the province. I was inspired to take back some new ideas to my community.”

“I’m a new Community Adult Literacy Coordinator working in a remote community. I work primarily on my own. It can be quite isolating, so I found it extremely helpful to have an opportunity to chat with other folks who are doing similar work.”

About Us

Decoda Literacy Solutions is BC’s provincial literacy organization. We support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC by providing resources, training and funds.

Our work supports children and families, youth, adults, Indigenous and immigrant communities to help build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

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