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International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) - 2003

The 2003 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), released in November 2005, tested more than 23,000 Canadians on their proficiency in four domains: prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem-solving. Proficiency was rated on the basis of levels one to five, that is, lowest to highest. The survey was done across nationally representative samples of 16- to 65-year olds from six participating countries (Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States. IALSS builds on its predecessor, the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), which was the world’s first internationally comparative survey of adult literacy.

In Canada,more than 23,000 individuals aged 16 and over from across the 10 provinces and three territories responded to IALLS, spending an average of two hours answering the questions. These consisted of common questions seeking demographic information (such as education, occupation, income and engagement in adult learning and community activities), as well as tasks to determine proficiency levels at work, and in the community across four domains, as follows:

Prose literacy: The knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information from texts including editorials, news stories, brochures and instruction manuals.

Document literacy
: The knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and charts.

Numeracy: The knowledge and skills required to effectively manage the mathematical demands of diverse situations. [This numeracy scale replaces the quantitative scale used in IALS, where respondents were required to perform one or more arithmetic operations based on information contained in texts, either continuous or non-continuous].

Problem-solving
: Involves goal-directed thinking and action in situations for which no routine solution procedure is available. The problem solver has a more or less well-defined goal, but does not immediately know how to reach it. The understanding of the problem situation and its step-by-step transformation, based on planning and reasoning, constitute the process of problem solving.

Descriptors of Literacy Levels:


Level 1: Persons with very poor skills, where the individual may, for example, be unable to determine the correct amount of medicine to give a child from information printed on the package.

14 % of Albertans are at this level in prose literacy (the type of literacy traditionally thought of as "reading.")

Level 2: People can only deal with material that is simple, clearly laid out, and in which the tasks involved are not too complex. It denotes a weak level of skill, but more hidden than Level 1. It identifies people who can read but test poorly. They may have developed coping skills to manage everyday literacy demands but their low level of proficiency makes it difficult for them to face novel demands, such as learning new job skills.

26% of Albertans are at this level in prose literacy.

Level 3: The minimum skills level needed for coping with the demands of everyday life and work in a complex, advanced society. It denotes roughly the skill level required for successful secondary school completion and college entry. Like higher levels, it requires the ability to integrate several sources of information and solve more complex problems.

39% of Albertans are at this level in prose literacy.

Levels 4 & 5: People demonstrate a command of higher-order information-processing skills.

Only 21% of Albertans are at this level in prose literacy.

Results from IALSS, 2003


Alberta
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4 & 5
Prose Literacy
14
26
39
21
Document
15
25
37
23
Problem Solving
29
38
27
6
Numeracy
20
29
33
18
Totals (averages of all categories at each level)
19.5
29.5
34
17

Analysis:

The measure for prose literacy alone shows more Albertans at level 2 than in the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), but fewer at the highest level (5). Those at the lowest skills levels (1 and 2) in prose literacy increased from 36% in 1994 to 40% in 2003. Level 3 is considered the minimum required level to function in Canadian society.

Canada
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4 & 5
Prose Literacy
20
28
35
17
Document
22
27
33
18
Problem Solving
36
36
23
5
Numeracy
25
30
30
15
Totals (averages of all categories at each level)
26
30
30
14



Link to Stats Canada Article:
http://www.statcan.ca:80/Daily/English/051109/d051109a.htm

Some Key Findings

Higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of prose literacy proficiency and numeracy. Only 3.9 per cent of adults with less than high school completion achieve Level 4 or 5 skills on the prose scales whereas almost 10 times as many (34.5) of university graduates attain this level.

About 62 per cent of employed Canadians have document proficiency scores at Level 3 or above, while 53 per cent of the unemployed have scores below Level 3.

Lower skilled adults tend to work fewer weeks, experience more and longer periods of unemployment, and earn lower wages when they are working. There are 972,000 Canadians at Level 1, and 1.6 million at Level 2, who are either unemployed or employed but earning a low income.

Individuals with Level 1 and 2 skills are most at risk of losing their current jobs as a result of technological, process or organizational change, including job losses due to outsourcing. It is unlikely that these individuals have the reading and numeracy skill to cope with the majority of jobs that will replace the jobs that are lost.

Generally speaking, respondents in Canada who have medium-to-high literacy skills and are high-intensity computer users have between four and five times the odds of being in the top quartile of personal income, compared to those with low literacy and low computer use.

More In-depth Analysis

The full Canadian Report of the IALSS Building on our Competencies: Canadian Results for the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey.

Statistics Canada announces highlights from the full IALSS report.

Statistics Canada announces the provincial/territorial analysis of IALSS.




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