Adult literacy in Canada: results of a national study uanaaa

Adult literacy in Canada: results of a national study uanaaa
89-525E
Adult literacy in Canada:
results of a national study
_:.
'STATIS TICS
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1
Adult Literacy in Canada:
Results of a National Study
Published by authority of the Minister
responsible for Statistics Canada
o Minister of Industry,
Science and Technology, 1991
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording
or otherwise without prior written permission from Chief, Author Se rvices, Publications
Division, Statistics Canada, O ttawa, Ontario, Canada K1 A OT6.
September 1991
Pace: Canada: $35.00 per issue
United States: US$42.00 per issue
Other Countries: US$49.00 per issue
Catalogue 89-525E
ISSN 6-660-14178-7
O ttawa
Version française de cette publication disponible sur demande (no 89-525F au catalogue.)
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revised figures.
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Statistics Act.
Foreword
Prior to this study, Statistics Canada had no
experience in the measurement of literacy skills. With a
little innovation, a little luck and advice from a large
number of people, our first attempt -- the survey of
"Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities" -- appears to have
been a success. The survey has, however, presented us
with a problem that more established measures such as
the unemployment rate or the consumer price index have
already overcome. Not only must we present our findings,
we must make the measures understandable to the
Canadian public. Our response to this problem may be
found in the unusual content of this publication. Along with
three chapters of descriptive analyses of the sort normally
included in Statistics Canada publications, readers will find
ten chapters authored by experts from a wide range of
domains. These chapters have been included to give
readers a feel for the import of the survey findings in a
variety of fields.The authors were asked to act as
interpreters offering readers a view of the data cast in their
realm of experience. The interpretations of the data and
any recommendations offered in this part of the publication
are based on analysis and insight of the writer and do not
necessarily represent the views of the Government of
Canada.
We are especially grateful to Sco tt Murray and Alvin
Satin for their guidance and encouragement not only in
writing this paper but during the entire length of the
project. Thanks are also due to Cathy Chapman and Tom
Brecher of the National Literacy Secretariat and David
Neice of the Social Trends Analysis Directorate of the
Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada/Department of
Secretary of State for their support. Thanks to Richard
Porzuczek, Anna Maneiro, Cindy Sceviour and Yvon
Gratton for their contributions at various stages of this
work. Finally, we are grateful to the referees for their
constructive comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
Table of Contents
(Part I)
Page
Major Findings 9
13
1.0 Introduction 1.1 Introductory comments 1.2 Definition of literacy 1.3 Survey methodology 2.0 Literacy skill levels 2.1 Reading levels
2.2 Numeracy levels 2.3 Writing results
3.0 Literacy skill levels: a look at the differences among Canadians 3.1 Literacy skills by level of schooling 3.2 Literacy skills by age group 3.3 Literacy skills by province
3.4 Literacy skills by community size
4.0 Reading skills of adult Canadians by selected characteristics 4.1 Background characteristics 4.1.1 Migration status 4.1.2 Language 4.1.3 Labour market activity 4.1.4 Employment characteristics 4.2 Literacy skill levels in relation to self-assessment and perceived needs 13
13
14
17
17
19
21
23
23
24
27
29
31
31
31
35
37
40
42
5.0 Summary 47
References 49
Appendix I:
Question selection
criteria
Interviewing
Appendix II:
51
Some notions of literacy The functional literacy continuum The measurement of functional literacy using levels
Other components of literacy 51
51
53
53
53
53
54
Table of Contents - Concluded
(Part II)
Page
2.
An international review of concepts, definitions and
measurement approaches underlying
literacy statistics - Alvin Satin (Statistics Canada)
57
Literacy and international
competitiveness: The relevance of Canada's survey Donald Hirsch (OECD)
61
3.
Implications for adult education - Ian Morrison (Canadian Association for Adult Education)
4.
Literacy and health in Canada: Contribution of the LSUDA survey - Irving Rootman (Centre
for Health Promotion, University of Toronto)
5.
6.
8.
9.
10.
Literacy and old age in Canada: The results of the LSUDA survey
Economic Consultant) -
63
65
David P. Ross (Social
67
Functional illiteracy: Economic costs and labour market implications - Tim O'Neil (Atlantic
Provinces Economic Council) and Andrew Sharpe (Canadian Labour Market and Productivity
Centre)
69
Workplace literacy: The results
of the LSUDA survey - B. A. Hawrysh (Council of Forest
Industries of British Columbia)
79
A labour perspective on basic skills - Carol MacLeod (Canadian
Literacy for workers: Federation of Labour)
81
Gender, nativity and literacy: Proficiency and training issues - Monica Boyd (Department
of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University) 85
Literacy programming and the Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities Stan Jones (Centre for the Study of Adult Literacy, Carleton University) 95
Adult Literacy in Canada:
Results of a National Study
Part l
G. Montigny
K. Kelly
S. Jones
Major Findings
•
Reading Skills:
Sixty-two percent of Canadian adults aged 16
to 69 have sufficient reading skills to deal
with most everyday reading requirements
(level 4). Their skills enable them to acquire
further knowledge using printed material.
•
A further 22% of Canadian adults can use
reading materials to carry out simple reading
tasks within familiar contexts with materials
that are clearly laid out (level 3). Careful
document design will often enable level 3
readers to use the text, but carelessly
constructed documents will make it difficult
for those at this level.
•
•
>'<
•
•
-
-
Only 12 of adult Canadians whose educational
attainment is limited to elementary schooling or
no schooling whatsoever have reading skills
necessary to meet daily demands.
Newfoundland registers the lowest estimated skill
levels. Almost a quarter of its adult population has
limited reading skills (levels 1 and 2) and only
39% have skills sufficient to meet most everyday
requirements (level 4).
-
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec have
similar reading skill profiles. Between 15% and
20% of the adult population have limited skills
(levels 1 and 2) and close to 57% have level 4
skills.
-
62% of Ontario's adults and 65% of those of
Manitoba have sufficient reading skills (level 4)
while at least 69% of adults living in
Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have
level 4 skills.
Of adults born in Canada, 12% have reading skills
•
Among immigrants, reading skills are lowest
among those who came to Canada during the
last decade, with only 36% of them at level 4 and
close to 40% at levels 1 and 2.
•
The age when one of Canada's official languages
was learned plays a key role in the development
of reading skills in that language.
This figure jumps to 48% for Canadians with
some secondary schooling and to 70% for those
whose highest level of schooling is secondary
school completion.
Canadians with university education have the
highest percentage of people being categorized at
level 4 (89%).
Older Canadians are much more likely than
younger adults to have literacy problems. Close
to 3 out of 4 Canadians aged 16-34 have reading
skills sufficient to deal with most everyday
reading requirements (level 4). For the 55-69
year old population, this proportion is only 1 in 3.
-
assessed at levels 1 and 2 compared to 28% for
immigrants.
Level of reading proficiency has a strong and
positive relationship with level of schooling.
-
•
The reading skills of 16% of Canada's adults
are too limited to allow them to deal with the
majority of written material encountered in
everyday life (levels I and 2 and persons
who did not attempt the test because they
reported having no abilities in English or
French).
Among adult Canadians, residents of the western
provinces have the highest reading skills.
•
-
Only about 13% of Canadians who reported a
mother tongue other than English or French and
who started to learn one of the official languages
after the age of 15 were classified at level 4.
-
In comparison, 56% of Canadians who reported a
mother tongue other than English or French and
who started to learn one of the official languages
before the age of 16 were classified at level 4.
The reading skills of those who undertook the
test in French are lower than those who carried
them out in English. Seventy percent of those
who completed the test in English were
classified at level 4, compared to 57% for those
who carried out the test in French.
•
Seventy-one percent of Canadians with an
English mother tongue have skills sufficient to
meet everyday requirements (level 4) compared
to 58% for those with a French mother tongue
and 45% for those with a mother tongue other
than English or French.
•
The reading skills of part-year workers (worked
less than 40 weeks in the 12 month period
preceding the survey) are lower than those
assessed for the full-year workers (worked 40 or
more weeks). Sixty-five percent of the part-year
workers have level 4 reading skills compared to
70% for the full-year workers.
•
In general, workers in service producing
industries (which are more heavily information
oriented than other industries) have higher
reading skills.
managerial, administrative and related occupations; 86% in natural sciences, engineering and
social sciences occupations; and
92% in
teaching and related occupations have skills
sufficient to meet most everyday reading
demands (level 4).
•
Fifty-four percent of level 1 readers and 82% of
level 2 readers report being satisfied with their
reading and writing skills.
•
A larger proportion of immigrants at levels 1 and
2 are dissatisfied with their skills -- 51% and 34%
respectively -- compared to 28% and 12% for the
Canadian-born population.
•
Ninety-four percent of Canadian adults feel their
reading skills in English or French are adequate
for their daily activities.
•
Respondents with self-perceived inadequate
skills (representing about 1.2 million Canadian
adults) were asked about their preference for a
training instructor.
-
-
-
•
•
10
More than 70% of the workers in industries such
as finance, insurance and real estate; community
services;servicestobusiness; public
administration; wholesale trade and transportation
have skills sufficient to meet most everyday
demands (level 4).
At the opposite end, only 50% of the workers in
agriculture and the other primary industries
(forestry, mining, fishing and trapping) have skills
that meet everyday reading demands. Over 20%
of workers in these industries have limited reading
skills (levels 1 and 2). Lower reading skills are
also found in the manufacturing, personal services
and construction industries.
Less than half the workers in farming and other
occupations in the primary sector as well as
product fabricating (manufacturing) have level 4
reading skills.
Occupational groups consisting of professional
and highly skilled occupations show high
reading skills. Eighty-five percent of those in
•
-
48% indicated they would prefer a teacher from a
local school or community college
-
20% would prefer a volunteer or tutor from a local
literacy program
-
13% reported that they would prefer a friend or
family member
-
19% indicated no preference.
Only 9% of respondents with self-perceived
inadequate skills indicated they are currently
taking instruction to improve their reading and
writing skills in English or French. A further 53%
reported that they might someday take such
instruction.
Numeracy Skills:
The majority (62%) of Canadian adults (1669) have numeracy skills enabling them to
deal with printed material requiring a simple
sequence of numerical operations (level 3).
Skills at this level allow Canadians to meet
numeracy demands required in many
everyday documents and forms.
•
•
Twenty-four percent of Canadian adults do
not possess the necessary skills to meet
most everyday numeracy requirements but
can deal with commonly encountered
documents and forms requiring them to
perform a simple numerical operation such
as addition or subtraction (level 2).
An additional 14% of Canadian adults have
limited numeracy skills (level 1). These skills
enable them to, at most, locate and
recognize numbers in isolation or in a short
text. Their skills do not permit them to
perform numerical operations consistently.
•
The numeracy skills of an estimated 5% of
the Canadian adult population (820,000
adults) were not assessed and hence are not
included in this distribution. Of these,
approximately 320,0€0 adults reported having
no skills in either of Canada's official
languages and, therefore, did not attempt the
test. A further 500,000 adults were screened
from taking the main test, which contained
the numeracy items, due to their limited
literacy skills in English or French.
•
•
As with reading skills, numeracy skills are
closely linked to the level of schooling of
respondents.
-
-
While 64% of Canadians whose highest level of
schooling is secondary school completion are
categorized at numeracy level 3, only 47% of
those who have some secondary schooling were
classified at that level.
-
Eighty-three percent of those with university
education have level 3 skills.
•
Numeracy skills are strongest among adults
aged 25-34 -- 69% of them achieved level 3.
•
Fourteen percent of Canada's young adults (1624) have limited numeracy abilities (level 1) and a
further 30% of them have level 2 skills allowing
them to deal with material requiring them to
perform a simple numerical operation.
•
Forty-seven percent of Canadians aged 55-69
have numeracy skills sufficient to meet everyday
numeracy demands.
•
In Ontario and the four western provinces, over
60% of the adult population have numeracy skills
to meet most everyday demands (level 3). Alberta
(72%) and British Columbia (70%) have the
highest percentages of adults with level 3
abilities.
•
The highest percentages of Canadians with
limited functional numeracy skills (level 1) are
found in the Atlantic provinces and in Quebec
with percentages ranging between 29% (for
Newfoundland) and 19% (for Quebec).
•
Sixty-four percent of those tested in English
achieved level 3 (level sufficient to meet most
everyday numeracy demands) compared to 53%
for those tested in French.
•
Sixty three percent of adults born in Canada
were categorized at numeracy level 3 compared
to 57% for those born outside Canada.
Almost half (46%) of Canada's adults with no
schooling or elementary schooling only have
limited numeracy skills (level 1).
-
11
Writing Skills:
•
•
•
Eighty-eight percent of Canadian adults (1663) can write a simple message (note to a
household member to turn on the oven)
containing all the information specifically
requested in the test question.
Sixty-two percent of Canada's adult
population can write a letter requesting the
repair of an appliance. The letters written by
47% included all the information specified by
the manufacturer while those written by the
other 15% partially met the specified content
requirements. (The letters written by this
latter group included enough information
such that the appliance would probably be
repaired and returned to them, but some of
theinformationrequestedbythe
manufacturer was omitted.)
The writing skills of an estimated 11% of the
Canadian adult population (some 2 million
adults) are not included in these results. Of
these:
an estimated 320,000 adults reported
having no skills in either of Canada's
official languages and therefore did not
attempt the test
-
an estimated 500,000 adults were not
asked to complete the writing items
because their reading skills in English
or French were limited
-
an estimated 6% of the population
(approximately 1.2 million adults) refused
to complete one or both of the writing
tasks
About the Survey:
These results are based on The Survey of Literacy
Skills Used in Daily Activities (LSUDA) conducted by
Statistics Canada in October 1989 on behalf of the
National Literacy Secretariat of Multiculturalism and
Citizenship Canada:Department of the Secretary of State.
The objective of the survey was to provide a direct
assessment of the reading, numeracy and writing skills of
Canada's adult population (16-69) in each official language.
12
The following definition of official language literacy,
upon which the skill levels were built, was used in the
survey.
The information processing skills necessary to
use the printed material commonly encountered
at work, at home, and in the community."
The survey consisted of face-to-face interviews and
involved a series of tasks designed to reflect reading,
writing and numeracy activities commonly encountered in
daily life in Canada. A representative sample of 13,571
persons aged 16-69 across Canada was selected from
dwellings that recently participated in the Labour Force
Survey (LFS). The overall response rate for the survey
was 70% resulting in a database of approximately 9.500
respondents.
The survey employed three questionnaires to profile
the characteristics and the literacy skills of Canada's adult
population:
•
a set of "background" questions gathered information
on individual socio-economic characteristics, parental
educational achievement, and perceived literacy skills
and needs;
•
a "screening" questionnaire, with 7 simple tasks,
identified individuals with very limited literacy abilities
(those who had very low literacy abilities were not
asked to respond to the next questionnaire);
•
a "main" questionnaire, composed of 37 tasks,
measured specific reading, writing and numeracy
abilities.
The selection of tasks for the "screening" and "main"
questionnaires ensured that a range of abilities was
measured. For reading, these abilities ranged from
locating a word in a document (for example, locating the
expiry date on a driver's licence) to more complex abilities
involving the integration of various parts of a document (for
example, reading a chart to determine if an employee is
eligible for a particular benefit). Numeracy abilities were
assessed using such forms as a swimming pool schedule
(locating a particular time), a bank deposit slip (addition
and subtraction) and a catalogue order form (addition and
multiplication). Two writing tasks were included in the
assessment: one involved writing a simple message
requesting a household member to turn on the oven while
the second required respondents to write a letter to a
company requesting the repair of an appliance.
1.0 Introduction
1.1 Introductory comments
Most Canadians would agree that literacy is an
important, perhaps necessary, skill if one is to participate
fully in modern Canadian society. Most, however, would
have difficulty agreeing as to just what literacy is. The
nature of literacy is complex and refers to both a social
phenomenon and a cognitive skill. The social
phenomenon highlights the contingent nature of literacy.
That is, it recognizes that literacy requirements differ from
one society, and one time, to another. The cognitive skill
element relates literacy to background factors such as
education and life experience. Its contingent nature makes
literacy difficult, yet nevertheless important, to assess -especially in a period of accelerated economic and social
change.
Literacy skills are basic and essential tools which
enable and enhance communication, understanding and
awareness. Life-long learning skills allow individuals not
only to develop professional skills but lead to a better
understanding of the multiple facets of daily living in a
complex environment. Information, especially printed
information, plays an important role in many everyday
activities such as community involvement, finance, and
health and safety.
From a labour force perspective, literacy skills are a
prerequisite for meeting the challenge of rapid economic
changes that result from the opening of world economies.
Important changes to Canadian industrial and occupational
structures will require that workers make major
adjustments. New technology, new products and new
services will echo on all aspects of everyday living. Ability
to acquire knowledge from printed material will be required
to fully adjust to these changes.
In 1987, the release of results from a survey
sponsored by Southam News Co. confirmed (as suspected
by specialists) that a considerable number of Canadians,
as many as 4.5 million, have some literacy deficiencies in
Canada's official languages. This survey was the first
direct measure of adult literacy abilities in Canada. By
revealing the existence and magnitude of a literacy
problem in Canada, the results focused public attention on
a complex question and clearly indicated the need for
more information to respond to the issue. Governments
and educators needed a precise assessment of the actual
literacy skills of Canadians to target and promote initiatives
for improvement.
In response to this information need, Statistics Canada
was commissioned by the National Literacy Secretariat of
Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada/ Department of
the Secretary of State to conduct a detailed literacy
assessment of the adult population. In October 1989, the
Agency conducted the Survey of Literacy Skills Used _in
Daily Activities (LSUDA). The principal objective of the
survey was the development of a detailed literacy profile of I
Canada's adult population. Specifically, the survey was to
provide a direct assessment of the reading, writing and
numeracy skills of Canada's adult population in each
official language. This assessment was to be complete
within various contexts of daily living (for example, at work
at home) and was to be complemented by a self
assessment and perceived needs component. Ultimately
the survey was to provide a national database allowing th
detailed analyses of the literacy skills of Canadians, their
perceived skills and needs in relation to various socioeconomic characteristics.
I
This report has two distinct parts. The first part
presents a general overview of the survey findings. It
takes the form of a descriptive analysis and covers a range
of information from the national survey. The second part
includes analyses by various authors interested in the
literacy situation in Canada. These authors are specialists
in fields such as health, labour, adult education and
literacy. Their analyses provide an interpretation of the
survey results from the perspective of their fields.
1.2
Definition of literacy
The task of developing a literacy definition for Canada
is particularly difficult due to the multicultural nature of
Canadian society. To develop a measure of literacy
unique to each Canadian subculture would negate the use
of a large scale national survey using a standard set of
direct measurement instruments. Yet to ignore the literacy
skills of various language groups would oversimplify the
study of literacy in Canada.
This dilemma of whether to develop a literacy
measure for each subgroup or to create a more standard
tool, led to a decision to define literacy, in the present
study, in terms of Canada's official languages -- either
English or French. Apart from the obvious operational
difficulties involved in the development of equivalent
measurement tools for various languages, to do so would
have violated a basic principle underlying the design of the
survey (that is, the survey should be restricted to the
1.3 Survey methodology
languages used by government to communicate with
Canadians). This principle reflects the view that an
absence of official language literacy effectively deprives a
segment of the population from the benefit of government
initiatives based on the printed word, be they health
promotion, labour market adjustment or any other area of
activity. As a result, the only measures of non-official
language literacy for respondents whose first language is
neither English nor French is a self-assessment of their
literacy proficiency in their first language.
The survey consisted of face-to-face interviews with
individuals in their homes and involved a series of tasks
designed to reflect reading., writing._and numeracy activities
commonly encountered in Canada. A representative
sample of 13,571 persons aged 16-69 across Canada was
selected from dwellings that had recently participated in
the Labour Force Survey (LFS) -- Canada's largest
continuing monthly household survey of the general
population. The use of LFS respondents was advantageous because individual information (age, educational
attainment, etc.) was already available and was used to
efficiently tailor the sample to meet the specific survey
requirements. In particular, the desire to focus more of the
sample on young people and those with low educational
attainment was met by using LFS respondents.
The following definition of official language literacy,
adopted in the national survey, highlights crucial aspects
of literacy in terms of real life requirements:
"The information processing skills necessary to
use the printed material commonly encountered
at work, at home, and in the community."
The "information processing skills"• refer to reading,
writing and numeracy skills. The skills underlying literacy
cannot be separated from the context in which they must
be applied. That is, the specific literacy skills individuals
require in their everyday lives are largely dependent on
their occupation, their household activities, and their level
of participation in community life. Hence to put literacy
skills into context, the three primary "domains" (work,
home, and community) in which literacy skills must be
applied, were incorporated in the definition. Consideration
given to these domains in the selection of measurement
tasks ensured that a broad range of literacy demands
people commonly encounter in their everyday lives Were
included.
1
It was also recognized that the skill that is required in
a given situation depends on the type of material to which
it must be applied. Thus, a further component of literacy
"materials" was built into the proposed . framework of this
study. Materials refer to the various forms and formats in
which information is displayed.
From the definition, skill levels were defined according
to the abilities required to accomplish a variety of
activities. Each of the broad levels of ability has distinct
implications for identifying initiatives needed to deal with
the literacy issue (see section 2 for a description of the
literacy levels).
Residents of Yukon and the Northwest Territories,
members of the Armed Forces, persons living on Indian
reserves and inmates of institutions were not included in
the sample as these populations are excluded from the
coverage of the LFS. These exclusions account for
approximately 3% of the Canadian population.
,
The provincial allocation of the sample and the
corresponding sample attained are given in table 1.1. The
overall response rate for the survey was 70%, resulting in
a database of approximately 9,500 respondents. (Analysis
of the nonrespondents to the survey suggest that they are
not concentrated in any specific group.)
The survey used three questionnaires to profile the
characteristics and the literacy skills of Canada's adult
population:
•
a set of "background" questions gathered information
on individual socio-economic characteristics, parental
educational achievement, and perceived literacy skills
and needs;
•
a "screening" questionnaire, with 7 simple tasks,
identified individuals with very limited literacy abilities
(those who had very low literacy abilities were not
asked to respond to the next questionnaire);
•
a "main" questionnaire, with 37 tasks, measured
specific reading, writing and numeracy abilities.
_
14
Table 1.1
Provincial sample allocation and the corresponding sample attained for the Survey of Literacy Skills Used in
Daily Activities (LSUDA)
Province
Newfoundland
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
Quebec
Ontario
Manitoba
Saskatchewan
Alberta
British Columbia
Canada
Note:
Sample
allocated
Sample
attained
Response
rate
600
120
836
1,300
2,437
3,500
593
532
1,248
2,405
445
95
611
946
1,745
2,257
427
389
862
1,678
74%
79%
73%
73%
72%
64%
72%
73%
69%
70%
13,571
9,455
70%
The samples in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta were augumented by the purchase of additional sample by the
provincial governments.
The selection of tasks for the "screening" and "main"
questionnaires ensured that a range of abilities were
measured 1 . For reading, these abilities ranged from
locating a word or item in a document (for example,
locating the expiry date on a driver's licence) to more
complex abilities like integrating various parts of a
document (for example, reading a chart to determine if an
employee is eligible for a particular benefit). Numeracy
abilities were assessed using forms such as a swimming
pool schedule (locating a particular time), a bank deposit
slip (addition and subtraction) and a catalogue order form
(addition and multiplication). Two writing tasks were
included in the assessment: a simple message requesting
a household member to turn on the oven and a letter to a
company requesting the repair of an appliance. Further
details on the collection methodology (including a more
detailed discussion of the selection criteria for the
questions) are provided in Appendix I.
A pretest involving 1,500 respondents was conducted to
evaluate the effectiveness of the tasks in measuring specific
abilities and to ensure the difficulty levels of the tasks were
equivalent in the two official languages.
'
15
2.0 Literacy skill levels
This section describes the literacy skill levels, items
that constitute and describe each level, and individuals'
abilities at each level. As well, basic survey results at the
national level for reading, numeracy and writing skills are
discussed. In reading this section, it is important to keep
in mind that the levels developed for the survey are simply
points along the functional literacy continuum believed to
be helpful in un e n ing the distribution of literacy skills
and in identifying the types of programs required to satisfy
the literacy needs of Canadians. Details on the theoretical
framework for the study (including a discussion of the
functional literacy continuum approach) are provided in
Appendix II.
A review of previous tests and theoretical work on
reading suggested that three key points along the
continuum be defined, giving four categories, or levels. i
For numeracy two key points were identified yielding three
levels. Because descriptive titles would detract from the
idea that the levels are part of a continuum, levels have
been referred to simply as Level 1, Level 2, etc.
It is crucial to note that the points along the continuum
were developed prior to item development and served to
guide item development (see Appendix II). Thus the
LSUDA results dô not provide data to discover the
points/levels, but rather, data to confirm the model of
functional literacy, reflected in the levels that generated the
test items. Various technical reports outline how well the
results confirm the model.
2.1 Reading levels
In describing each level, the formal definition used in
the study is given followed by a discussion of the
performance of individuals at that level.
Level 1
Canadians at this level have difficulty dealing with
printed materials. They most likely identify
themselves as people who cannot read.
Canadians whose reading skills are at level 1 cannot
use most printed material. While most of the respondents
at this level could sign their name, only 53% could
determine which sign (from six possible choices) gave
information about what to do in a fire, even though only
one sign had the word "fire" on it. Only 16% could
determine the correct amount of medicine to give to a
child. Sixty percent, though, could match names of
common grocery products on a shopping list with the
grocery items in an advertisement.
People at this level are unlikely to expect that printed
text would be meaningful and they are unlikely to look to
text for help. Some at this level may have developed
strategies to cope with texts they cannot avoid and which
recur frequently in their lives, but they are unable to use
these strategies with new texts. It is the inconsistency in
performance as much as the low level of performance that
characterizes level 1. Thus, those who correctly identified
the fire sign, may not have been able to find the grocery
items, and vice versa, even though the two items are
nearly of the same level of difficulty. Those at level 1 are
more inclined to identify themselves as people who cannot
read.
Level 2
Canadians at this level can use printed materials for
limited purposes only, such as finding a familiar
word in a simple text. They would likely recognize
themselves as having difficulties with common
reading materials.
Level 2 items only require respondents to find words
in a text. Thus, level 2 items include identifying which sign
is a fire information sign and which items on a shopping
list are on sale. In each case, the texts consist solely of
words in isolation, in lists. Slightly more complicated level
2 tasks require finding words in the midst of other text (for
example, finding what foods are mentioned in a newspaper
article).
At this level, Canadians can use text for very limited
purposes. They are most successful when they have to
do nothing more than find a word in a text, but the text has
to be relatively simple. Forty-two percent could not
determine the correct medicine dosage for a seven-yearold when they had to find it in the midst of directions for
other ages. They were more successful at tasks where the
word or words they were searching for were not
surrounded by other text. Thus 79% could use an
enumeration notice to find out where to vote because the
address was in a box by itself; almost 90% could identify
products in a grocery ad when each product name was in
bold type and set off from the others. These respondents
probably can find familiar products by using the labels, but
if they have not encountered the word in print, even these
tasks may prove difficult.
When respondents at this level had to use the
information they had found to make a decision, they had
great difficulty doing so. Thus, when they had to use a
chart to decide whether a particular sandpaper was
appropriate for a particular job (a type of reading task often
encountered in work-related reading), only 36% could do
the task. Finding information in one text and using it in
another seemed particularly difficult for this level. Only
11% could transfer information from a catalogue page to
an order form. While level 2 readers might be able to
locate particular information on a label or form, they may
have difficulty deciding what to do with the information
when they find it.
These Canadians can use reading for quite limited
purposes, such as finding a word or words. People at this
level would probably admit to having reading problems
and often face tasks that their very limited reading skills
make di fficult.
Level 3
Canadians at this level can use reading materials in a
variety of situations, provided the material is simple,
clearly laid out, and the tasks involved are not too
complicated. While these people generally do not
see themselves as having significant reading
difficulties, they tend to avoid situations requiring
reading.
Level 3 items are clearly different from those at level
2. It is no longer sufficient to find a word or group of
words. At level 3, it is necessary to combine information
from words at various places in a text. For example, an
item asking what sandpaper to use for a job required the
respondent to locate the grade of sandpaper on one axis
of a matrix chart, the job on another axis, and then
determine the content of the cell where they intersected.
The most difficult level 3 item, finding the correct medicine
dosage for a seven year old, illustrates the complexity of
what, on the surface, seems to be a relatively simply task.
First, one has to find the dosage instructions in the text.
Then, one has to find the age and know that "6-8"
includes "7". Next one has to match this age with the
dosage and know that, in this case, the dosage follows the
age. Finally, one has to understand the dosage
instructions. Perhaps, after all, this task may cause some
people difficulty.
This level is in some ways the most difficult to
characterize. Respondents at this level could carry out
many reading tasks, but there were also many that they
could not do. Tasks where the reader only had to find and
match words were quite easy; every one of these tasks
was answered correctly by more than 90% of the level 3
18
respondents (95% could correctly find the grocery items
on sale). Tasks that required a simple decision after the
information was found presented greater difficulties, but
70% of the level 3 respondents answered all the tasks
which required a simple decision.
The tasks that were difficult for respondents at this
level used complex materials (such as maps) or required
complicated searches of texts. For example, one task
required that the reader keep three pieces of information
about job benefits in mind while using them to search a
chart for a fourth; only 37% of the level 3 respondents
could do this. They also had difficulty with tasks when the
way to find the information was not immediately obvious.
One task asked respondents to determine school hours
from a text with several paragraphs and no direct guide to
the information; only 35% could do so. The fact that there
was no clear answer -- the text simply said to "check with
local schools" -- may have added to the difficulty.
•
When the text is clearly laid out, the task not too
complicated, and the text simple and familiar, level 3
respondents succeed. Careful document design often
enables level 3 readers to use the text, but carelessly
constructed documents make it difficult for those at this
level. In other cases, the limited reading skills of level 3
respondents will make it difficult for them to meet the
demands of the task. Thus, level 3 readers come face to
face with their reading limitations when they must carry out
new and unfamiliar tasks. Most have probably found ways
to solve reading tasks that they cannot avoid, but the
literature suggests that they avoid most situations that
might require reading. Because they can succeed at
some reading tasks, those at level 3 do not tend to identify
themselves as people who have significant reading
difficulties and are certain to reject any identification with
being "illiterate", functional or otherwise.
Level 4
Canadians at this level meet most everyday reading
demands. This is a diverse group which exhibits a
wide range of skills.
The development of items that effectively measured
differences at this level, within the time available for
administering the test, was di fficult. Level 4 items require
considerable text-searching and interpretations to be
made about the text. One item, for example, required
respondents to read a lengthy newspaper article and judge
the evidence used to support a central claim of the author.
Some less difficult level 4 items were based on materials
that are unusual or complicated (for example, maps and
graphs).
Level 4 readers meet most everyday reading
demands. Indeed, it is unlikely that those at this level
would think they have any reading problems. The only
tasks that pose problems for some level 4 readers are
those that require judgements about a piece of reading.
When asked to judge the purpose of a newspaper opinion
report, over 60% had difficulty. Tasks that had no easily
determined single answer also posed difficulties to some.
Twenty-four percent had difficulty finding all the
apartments in a group of classified ads that met certain
requirements. Since readers were not told how many to
find (that is, how many ads fit the criteria), it was difficult to
know when they had found them all. Thus tasks without
clear, simple, correct answers, were the ones some level 4
respondents found difficult. Closed tasks, where it was
relatively easy to determine that one had all the
information, posed little difficulty for these readers.
Some readers at this level have no problems even
with very difficult reading tasks. The time constraints of
the test administration (one hour) limited the use of
complex texts that may have created difficulties for these
readers. It is, of course, true that highly specialized texts
requiring considerable background information will pose
problems, but they do so because readers lack relevant
knowledge, not because they have reading difficulties.
Some level 4 readers may have problems with badly
written texts; but for many, their reading skills will be
strong enough to eventually overcome the text.
Results
The majority (62%) of Canadian adults have sufficient
reading skills to deal with most everyday reading
requirements (level 4). Their skills enable them to acquire
further knowledge using printed material. A further 22% of
the adult population can use reading materials to carry out
simple reading tasks within familiar contexts with materials
that are clearly laid out (level 3). However, this group does
not have sufficient skills to cope with more complex
reading contexts. The reading skills of 16% of Canada's
adults are too limited to deal with the majority of printed
material encountered in everyday life. This percentage
includes individuals whose abilities are classified at levels
1 (5%) and 2 (9%) and persons who did not attempt the
test because they reported having no abilities in English or
French (2%). The national results for the reading
component are presented in table 2.1.
Thus, while the majority of Canadian adults read at
level 4, there are significant numbers at the other levels,
particularly level 3. Further discussion of these results can
be found in the other sections of this report.
Table 2.1
Percentage distribution of persons aged 16-69 by
reading skill level, Canada
At levelAt or below level
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
7%
9%
22%
62%
7%
16%
38%
100%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics
Note:
Canada, 1989.
Persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's
official languages are included in level 1.
2.2 Numeracy levels
Because the numeracy tasks were intended to
simulate ways in which arithmetic operations are used in
everyday life, they were embedded in reading tasks.
Thus, the numeracy scale is not merely an arithmetic
scale. People who have difficulty calculating the cost of
two pairs of gloves given the cost of one pair may still
know the "two's table". More than multiplication is
involved: that is, the numeracy tasks are more than tasks
with numbers.
Because so little is known about how reading and
numerical operations combine in these tasks, users should
exercise more caution in generalizing these results than in
the reading results. Nonetheless, a picture of numeracy
ability does emerge from this study. The following section
presents the basis for the scale, and data that should help
users interpret the scale.
Level 1
Canadians at this level have very limited numeracy
abilities which enable them to, at most, locate and
recognize numbers in isolation or in a short text.
At this lowest level, a level representing some 14% of
the respondents, numeracy skills are restricted to tasks
that require recognizing numbers. The simplest numeracy
task, one answered correctly by 90% of all respondents,
was simply to match numbers representing times from a
schedule for a public swimming pool. However, 30% of
the respondents at the lowest level could not do this
simple task. When a numeracy task required more than
simply recognizing numbers in text, Level 1 respondents
had great difficulties. For example, one of the questions
asked respondents to fill out a deposit slip. As part of this
task, respondents were to write $100 on the line for "cash
received". Only 6% of the level 1 respondents had no
difficulty with the task.
19
Level 2
Canadians at this level can deal with material
requiring them to perform a simple numerical
operation such as addition and subtraction.
Tasks requiring only simple addition and subtraction
were well within the abilities of level 2 respondents. At this
level, 92% could subtract $100 for cash received in the
bank deposit slip question. A more difficult level 2 task
asked respondents to determine which of three packaged
meats was the least expensive per kilogram (the labels
specified cost per kilogram so no calculation was
required). Twenty-nine percent of those at level 2 did not
make the correct choice. The actual arithmetic was not
difficult, but the task was not explicitly stated as it had
been in the deposit slip task. Creating a task definition as
well as doing the calculation made this question more
difficult.
Level 3
Canadians at this level can deal with material
requiring them to perform simple sequences of
numerical operations which enable them to meet
most everyday demands.
Tasks at this level had inherently less explicit
instructions and required a sequence of numerical
operations. For example, the order form used in one of
the level 3 tasks -- an order form taken directly from a
catalogue in wide circulation in Canada -- had a line
labelled "10% shipping charge". To do the task,
respondents had to understand that the subtotal on the line
above had to be multiplied by 0.1 and the result written on
the shipping charge line. Certainly, if the test had simply
asked people to multiply 73.70 by 0.1, there would have
been many more correct answers. In the real-life context,
however, only 70% of all the respondents entered 7.37 on
the line. Only 44% of the level 2 respondents answered
this correctly, but 93% of those at level 3 had the right
amount. Other level 3 items (such as finding the cost of
two pairs of gloves when the catalogue gave only the price
per pair and calculating the cost of two kilograms of
ground beef given the price of one kilogram), also involved
rather simple multiplication. However, for these tasks the
respondent had to first determine what calculation was
required and then perform it. The percentages of correct
responses to these items were similar to the shipping
charge item:
2 glovesLevel 3: 92%
Level 2: 45%
2 kilograms Level 3: 90%
Level 2:53%
20
Again, it is unwarranted to conclude that many adult
Canadians are unable to perform numerical operations
(add, subtract, and multiply) because they were asked to
do more than this. We can say that some adult Canadians
have difficulty determining when and what to add, subtract,
and multiply.
Results
The majority (62%) of Canada's adult population
(aged 16-69) have numeracy skills sufficient to handle the
numerical tasks normally encountered in everyday life.
These skills enable them to deal with printed material
requiring a simple sequence of numerical operations (level
3). Skills at this level are adequate to meet the numeracy
requirements of most everyday documents and forms.
Twenty-four percent of Canadian adults do not
possess the necessary skills to meet most everyday
numeracy requirements but can deal with commonly
encountered documents and forms requiring them to
perform a simple numerical operation such as addition or
subtraction (level 2).
An additional 14% of Canadian adults have limited
numeracy skills (level 1). These skills enable them to, at
most, locate and recognize numbers in isolation or in a
short text. Their skills do not permit them to perform
numerical operations consistently.
The numeracy skills of an estimated 5% of the
Canadian adult population (820,000 adults) were not
assessed and hence are not included in this distribution.
Of these, approximately 320,000 adults reported having no
skills in either of Canada's official languages and,
therefore, did not attempt the test. A further 500,000
adults were not asked to take the main test, which
contained the numeracy items, due to their limited reading
skills in English or French. The reading skills of this subgroup would likely limit their ability to understand the
information needed to carry out the numeracy tasks. The
national results for the numeracy component are
presented in table 2.2.
Table 2.2
Percentage distribution of persons aged 16-69 by
numeracy skill level, Canada
At levelAt or below.level
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
14%
25%
62%
14%
39%
100%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activites, Statistics
Note:
Canada, 1989
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of
Canada's official languages and persons whose reading
skills were too limited to undertake the main test items.
2.3 Writing results
Because so little is known about the dimensions of
everyday writing, the development of a continuum with a
set of levels proved difficult. Further, the interview time
only permitted the inclusion of two writing items 2 , too few
to justify a scale. Thus, the writing results must be
regarded as tentative. Their principal effect ought to be to
encourage researchers to look more closely at everyday
writing.
Both writing tasks included in the study asked
respondents to read instructions describing a situation and
then to write text conforming to specific content
requirements. The tasks were scored in terms of
information content only. Errors of grammar, spelling and
style were not considered in the scoring. One of the tasks
was intended to represent a writing counterpart to the key
word items in the reading component. Respondents were
asked to complete a note giving instructions to a member
of the household to turn on the oven at a particular time
and to a particular temperature. The task was, in fact,
quite easy. Eighty-eight percent of the respondents who
undertook this task were able to complete it satisfactorily.
The second writing task was constructed to be more
difficult. It required fitting several pieces of information
into a letter to accompany the return of a small appliance
for repairs. Sixty-two percent of respondents attempting
this task were able to compose a letter that was judged to
convey enough information for the repair depot to fix the
appliance. The letters written by 47% included all the
information specified by the manufacturer. Another 15%
partially met the specified content requirements so that an
experienced repair person could understand the problem
and determine the appropriate repair from the letter.
However, 11 % of the respondents (representing
around 2 million adults) did not attempt to answer one or
both questions. Some 320,000 adults were excluded
because they lacked sufficient language skills to undertake
any part of the test. Another 500,000 adults were not
asked to take the main test due to their limited reading
skills in English or French. A further 1.2 million adults
declined to complete one or both of the writing tasks. It is
not known, of course, whether they declined because they
felt they would fail or for some other reason. It is worth
noting that more respondents refused to do the writing
items than any other item on the test.
There is obviously much more work to be done in
terms of the measurement of writing skills. There are clear
indications that Canadians have some difficulty with
everyday writing. Neither task was particularly demanding,
but many respondents did have difficulty.
2
Writing items take much longer to complete than reading and
numeracy items.
21
3.0 Literacy skill levels: a look at
the differences among
Canadians
Section 2 presented a global picture of the literacy
skills of Canadians with basic survey results at the national
level for reading, writing and numeracy being discussed.
In this section the skills of Canadians are examined more
closely by characterizing literacy levels using two key
variables -- education and age. Literacy performance by
province and community size is also discussed, and interprovincial differences using data standardized for age and
education are explored. Data for the reading and
numeracy components of literacy are presented.
3.1 Literacy skills by level of schooling
Prior to the recent initiation of direct literacy
assessment, literacy statistics in Canada were based on
indirect measures with educational attainment being the
most widely used proxy measure. Few would argue that
literacy skill development is a complex process with a
large number of factors (encompassing early childhood
reading pa tt erns, home and work environments, leisure
time activities, level of education) interacting in
complicated patt erns to shape an individual's literacy
proficiency. It is recognized, however, that educational
attainment plays a particularly determining role in skill
development. Tables 3.1 and 3.2 present the distribution
of skills by education level for reading and numeracy
ability respectively.
As expected, level of proficiency across both
components has a strong and positive relationship with
level of schooling. Literacy problems are most heavily
concentrated among adult Canadians whose educational
attainment is limited to elementary schooling or to no
schooling whatsoever. Note that only 12% of such
Canadians have reading skills sufficient to meet most
everyday reading requirements (level 4). This figure
jumps to 48% for Canadians with some secondary
schooling and to 70% for those whose highest level of
schooling is - secondary school completion. Not
surprisingly, Canadians with university education had the
largest percentage of people at level 4 (89%). Although
the relationship to educational attainment is not as great
for numeracy, the pa tt ern exists for this component as
well. While only 22% of Canadians with elementary
schooling or no schooling are at the top numeracy level,
the percentage increases to 47% for those with some
secondary, 64% for Canadians whose highest level of
schooling is secondary school completion and 83% for
those with university education.
Secondary school completion plays a key role in
literacy skill development. Only 8% of Canadians who
reported their highest level of schooling as high school
completion have limited reading abilities (levels 1 and 2)
and 10% of Canadians in this educational group have
limited numeracy abilities (level 1). These percentages
are even smaller for Canadians with postsecondary
education.
Table 3.1
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by highest level of schooling showing reading skill level,
Canada
Reading skills
Population
(thousands)
Canada*
No schooling or
elementary
Some secondary
Secondary completed
Trade School
Community College
Universi ty
17,705
1,818
4,427
4,181
1,133
2,458
3,456
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
5%
10%
22%
63%
33%
13%
6%(Q)
(1)
(1)
(1)
28%
35%
22%
25%(Q)
15%(Q)
8%(Q)
12%(Q)
48%
70%
63%
81%
89%
27%
3%(Q)
(1)
(1 )
(1)
(1)
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
" Total includes Not Stated" level of schooling
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for estimate to be released.
Note:
Table 3.2
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by highest level of schooling showing numeracy skill level,
Canada
Population
(thousands)
Canada*
No schooling or elementary
Some secondary
Secondary completed
Trade school
Community College
Universi ty
17,206
1,518
4,363
4,123
1,095
2,446
3,451
Numeracy skills
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
14%
25%
62%,
46%
20%
10%(Q)
(1 )
(1)
(1)
32%(Q)
33%
26%
23%(Q)
19%
14%(Q)
22% (Q)
47%
64%
65%
76%
83%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages and persons whose reading skills were too limited
Note:
to undertake the main test items.
Total includes "Nol Stated" level of schooling
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for estimate to be released.
There is comfort in the fact that more than the majority
of Canadians who completed high school have reading
skills sufficient to meet most everyday reading demands.
However, about 22% of those whose highest level of
schooling is high school completion are categorized at
level 3 and while Canadians at this level can use reading
materials in a variety of situations (depending on the
complexity of the task and the text), these individuals are
at risk of losing their abilities. Level 3 readers tend to
avoid situations that require reading and few take steps to
improve their skills. Therefore the retention of their
acquired skills is difficult. Similar results are observed for
numeracy. About one in three adult Canadians whose
highest level of schooling is high school completion do not
have the numeracy skills necessary to perform most
everyday numeracy tasks.
3.2 Literacy skills by age group
The strong relationship between level of schooling and
literacy proficiency is also apparent in the comparison of
skills between age groups. Older Canadians are much
more likely than younger adults to have literacy problems.
The experiences of older Canadians in terms of the labour
market conditions they faced (nature of job, war, the
depression), and the sources of financial support for
education undoubtedly contributed to their lower levels of
24
proficiency. The percentage of Canadians aged 55-69
with no schooling or whose schooling is limited to some
secondary or elementary is well above the national figure
-- 56% compared to 34% for 16-69 year olds.
Literacy results by age group are presented in charts
3.1 and 3.2. Note that while the incidence of level 1 and 2
readers (those with skills too limited to deal with everyday
reading demands) ranges from 6% to 9% for the three
youngest age groups, it rises for the next two age groups
from 21% among persons aged 45-54, to 36% among
persons aged 55-69. This translates into over 1 million
Canadians in the 55-69 age group who have trouble
reading such material as labels on medicine bottles or
using the yellow pages. The numeracy results show a
similar pa tt ern. About 25% of Canadians in the oldest age
group have limited numeracy abilities (level 1) compared
to the national figure of 14%.
The small percentage of Canadians aged 16 - 24 at the
lowest levels of reading proficiency (levels 1 and 2) looks
encouraging and supports the contention that severe
literacy problems will diminish with time as the Canadian
population ages. And yet, the current school-leaver rate
could be as high as 30%. This situation is further
complicated by the fact that the literacy demands placed
on individuals by society and the labour market are likely
to increase over time.
Chart 3.1
Reading level by age group, Canadians aged 16-69
80
60
60
-i 0
40
20
•
0
35-44
25-34
16-24
45-54
Age
Reading levels
Level 2
Level 1
1
55-69
Level 4
• Level 3
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Chart 3.2
Numeracy level by age group, Canadians aged 16-69
0,
80
80
60
60
40
4 ;'I
20
20
0
16-24
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-69
Age
Level 1
Numeracy levels
M Level2
• Level 3
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages and persons whose reading
skills were too limited to undertake the main test items.
25
Chart 3.3
Reading level by age group standardized for education, Canadians aged 16-69
a,o
80
80
60
60
40
40
20
20
o
16-24
Level 1
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-69
Age
Reading levels
El Level 4
IE Level 3
Level 2
o
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's o fficial languages.
A comparison of the performance of those aged 16-24
with those aged 25-34 also gives rise to questions.
Canadians aged 25 to 34 have somewhat stronger abilities
for both the reading and numeracy components. This
may, in part, result from the younger age group having had
a more limited exposure to everyday forms and
documents. Many of them, for example, have not yet
completed their schooling. It will be particularly important
to monitor the skills of this group over the next few years,
looking for an upward shift in the percentage at the top
level as this group completes its education and has more
exposure to everyday printed materials.
Chart 3.3 shows the reading results by age group
standardized for education 3 . Not surprisingly, removing
the effect of education changes the distribution of the
oldest age group most dramatically. The percentage with
limited reading skills (levels 1 and 2) in this age group is
26
reduced from 36% to 22% while the level with skills
sufficient to meet most everyday demands (level 4) is
increased from 36% to 49%. Standardizing for education
also narrows the gap between the three youngest age
groups.
Although removing the effect of education reduces the
differences in performance among the age groups, the skill
levels of the two oldest groups, are still significantly lower
than those of the other age groups, confirming that other
factors do play a role in skill development and retention.
In Section 4 other variables including labour force status
and occupation are related to literacy proficiency.
3
Standardization is a procedure of rate adjustment to
eliminate the effect of differences in population composition
with respect to explanatory variables (such as education and
age). The adjusted rates are useful for comparison
purposes only.
3.3 Literacy skills by province
Tables 3.3 and 3.4 show that among adult Canadians,
residents of the four western provinces generally have the
highest reading and numeracy skills. The incidence of low
literacy proficiency does, in fact, vary by province and is
highest in Quebec and in the Atlantic provinces.
Newfoundland, with 24% of its adult population at reading
levels 1 and 2 and 29% at numeracy level 1, registers the
lowest estimated skill levels. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick
and Quebec have similar reading and numeracy profiles -around 56% of adults having reading skills sufficient to
meet most everyday demands and 54% having numeracy
skills enabling them to deal with common numeracy tasks.
Table 3.3
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by reading skill level, Canada and provinces
Reading skills
Population
(thousands)
Canada
Newfoundland
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
Quebec
Ontario
Manitoba
Saskatchewan
Alberta
British Columbia
18,024
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
7%
9%
22%
62%
17%
36%
(1)
28%
26%
25%
21%
23%
19%
17%
19%
39%
(1)
57%
56%
57%
62%
65%
7%
(1)
5%(Q)
6%
6%
9%
5%(Q)
3%(Q)
384
85
594
483
4,721
6,689
703
632
1,649
2,084
(1)
10%
12%
13%
8%
7%(Q)
5%(Q)
7%(Q)
7%
5°%°(Q)
5%
72%
71%
69%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages are included in level 1.
Note:
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for estimate to be released.
Table 3.4
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by numeracy skill level, Canada and provinces
Numeracy skills
Population
(thousands)
Canada
Newfoundland
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
Quebec
Ontario
Manitoba
Saskatchewan
Alberta
British Columbia
17,206
369
79
581
468
4,577
6,228
678
620
1,589
2,015
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
14%
25%
62%
29%
(1)
21%
22%
19%
11%
13%(Q)
9%(Q)
8%(Q)
9%
26%
(1)
23%
24%
27%
25%
26%
26%
20%
22%
45%
(1)
56%
54%
54%
64%
61%
66%
72%
69%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note: Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages and persons whose reading skills were too limited
to undertake the main test items.
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for estimate to be released.
27
Note that in table 3.3 (reading skills by province)
persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's
official languages are included in level 1. This increases
the percentage of level 1 readers in provinces that have
higher proportions of immigrants. Removing persons with
language problems from the overall distribution changes
the reading profile for Ontario as follows: the level 1
percentage drops from 9% to 6%, level 2 remains at 8%,
level 3 increases from 21% to 22% and level 4 increases
from 62% to 65%. Excluding those with language
problems also reduces the number of level 1 readers in
British Columbia from 5% to around 3% and increases the
level 4 percentage from 69% to 70%. Reading skill
distributions excluding persons who reported having no
skills in either of Canada's official languages are presented
in table 3.5.
Table 3.5 also shows the reading results by province
standardized for age and education. The only province in
which the distribution is appreciably affected by the
standardization is Newfoundland, where the level 4
percentage is increased from 39% to 45%. The trend of
the highest skills in the western provinces is preserved
and the skill levels of Canadians living in Quebec and
Atlantic Canada are still below the national figures.
Table 3.5
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by reading skill level, Canada and provinces. Rates
standardized for age and education are also presented
Reading skills
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Canada
5%
10%
22%
63%
Newfoundland
Standardized
7%
8%
17%
15%
36%
32%
39%
45%
(1 )
(1 )
(1 )
(1)
28%
28%
57%
Prince Edward Island
57%
Nova Scotia
Standardized
4%(Q)
4%(Q)
11%
New Brunswick
Standardized
6%
5%
12%
11%
26%
25%
56%
58%
Quebec
Standardized
5%
4%
13%
12%
25%
24%
57%
60%
6%
8%
9%
22%
22%
65%
63%
Ontario
Standardized
6%
11%
Manitoba
Standardized
5%(Q)
7 0/0(Q)
23%
4%(Q)
7%(Q)
22%
65%
67%
Saskatchewan
Standardized
2%(Q)
3%(Q)
5%(Q)
5%(Q)
19%
17%
73%
75%
Alberta
Standardized
4%(Q)
5%(Q)
7%(Q)
8%(Q)
18%
19%
71%
68%
British Columbia
Standardized
3%
4%
7%
8%
19%
20%
70%
68%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for estimate to be released.
28
3.4 Literacy skills by community size
Tables 3.6 and 3.7 show skill distributions by
community size for reading and numeracy skills
respectively. The literacy skills of those living in rural
areas are weakest for both components. This is not
surprising given that adult Canadians (16-69) in rural areas
tend to have lower levels of schooling (49% have not
completed secondary school compared to 35% nationally).
However, for planning and placing skill improvement
programs, it should be remembered that while the highest
percentages of Canadians with low literacy abilities are
found in the rural areas (17% have limited reading abilities
(levels 1 and 2) and 18% are at numeracy level 1), less
than 20% of the Canadian population live in such areas.
Since 48% of Canadians live in urban centres of 500,000
or more, the greatest number of Canadians with literacy
problems live in larger urban centres.
Canadians living in urban centres of 100,000-499,999
have the highest literacy skills -- 71 % are at the top level
for reading and 66% have numeracy skills sufficient to
meet most everyday demands (level 3). Skill levels differ
between the two largest urban size groups partly because
more immigrants live in the centres of 500,000 or more.
Immigrants represent about 25% of the population living in
such centres, compared to 15% for centres of 100,000499,999.
Table 3.6
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16 - 69 by community size showing reading skill level, Canada
Reading skills
Population
(thousands)
Canada
Urban 500,000 or over
Urban 100,000-499,999
Urban 15,000-99,999
Urban less than 15,000
Rural areas
17,705
8,169
2,566
2,375
1,503
3,093
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
5%
10%
22%
63%
6%
3%(Q)
4%(Q)
5%(Q)
4%(Q)
9%
6%
10%
9%(Q)
13%
21%
19%
24%
25%
27%
64%
71%
63%
60%
57%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada. 1989.
Note: Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
Table 3.7
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16 - 69 by community size showing numeracy skill level, Canada
Numeracy skills
Population
(thousands)
Canada
Urban 500,000 or over
Urban 100,000-499,999
Urban 15,000-99,999
Urban less than 15,000
Rural areas
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
17,206
14%
25%
62%
7,866
2,514
2,336
1,465
3,025
13%
10%
15%
16%
18%
23%
24%
25%
26%
27%
64%
66%
60%
58%
55%
Source: Survey of literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989
Note: Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages and persons whose reading skills were too limited
to undertake the main test items
29
The reading profiles of Canada's three largest census
metropolitan areas (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) are
presented in table 3.8. In keeping with the trend that
western Canadians have the highest reading skills,
Vancouver registers a higher percentage of level 4 readers
(70%) than both Toronto (55%) and Montreal (60%).
Although the gap in these level 4 percentages is narrowed
when the effects of age and education are removed, the
trend is preserved. The pa ttern also holds when the
Canadian-born population is analyzed separately. The
level 4 percentage in Vancouver for this group is 76%
compared to 68% for Toronto and 66% for Montreal. (Note
that in this table persons who reported having no skills in
either English or French are included in level 1.)
Table 3.8
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16 69 showing reading skill level, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver
-
Reading skills
Population
(thousands)
Levels 1 & 2
Level 3
Level 4
Toronto
Born in Canada
2,510
1,388
25%
9%(Q)
20%
23%
55%
68%
Montreal
Born in Canada
2,144
1,718
18%
13%
22%
21 0/0
60%
66%
Vancouver
Born in Canada
1,049
679
12%
(1)
18%
17%(Q)
70%
76%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages are included in level 1.
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for estimate to be released.
Note:
30
4.0 Reading skills of adult
Canadians by selected
characteristics
While educational attainment is closely linked to
literacy, not all older Canadians with low educational
attainment have limited literacy skills. Similarly, not all
younger Canadians with higher levels of schooling had, at
the time of the survey, acquired literacy skills sufficient to
meet most everyday demands. Other factors influence the
acquisition and retention of literacy skills in one of
Canada's official languages. For instance, a first language
other than English or French and the age when one of
Canada's o ff icial languages was learned may affect the
acquisition of literacy skills. Similarly, the family, cultural
and community environment, as well as occupation and
work experiences, may influence the variety of reading
material encountered everyday and affect functional
reading skills over time.
This section profiles the reading skills of Canada's
adult population by a variety of related characteristics.
The section's main objective is to clarify further the nature
and extent of the literacy skills of Canadians according to
various socio-demographic characteristics. It will complement the earlier analysis based on schooling and age and
provide useful data to guide further research.
language (that is, the language in which they are most at
ease) other than English or French. While all respondents
had the choice between English or French for completing
the test items, many would have elected for a non-official
language had that choice been offered. Recent
immigrants or persons who learned English or French only
recently are undoubtedly disadvantaged by a limited
knowledge of an official language and their lack of
familiarity with certain types of documents encountered in
Canada.
In total, 18% of adults in Canada were born outside
the country and significant differences are observed when
their reading skill profiles are compared to the Canadianborn population (chart 4.1). The main differences in the
reading skill profiles are concentrated at the two lowest
levels (12% of adults born in Canada had skills assessed
at levels 1 and 2, compared to 28% for immigrants). Most
importantly, the widest gap is at level 1 (3% compared to
14%). Level 1 encompasses persons with very limited
reading skills generally associated with little or no
schooling or, more frequently, with a poor knowledge of
English or French. About 13% of immigrants reported
their highest level of schooling as "no schooling or
elementary schooling only" compared to 10% for adults
born in Canada. However, 60% of the immigrants had a
mother tongue other than English or French compared to
6% for Canadian-born adults.
The section has two main components. Firstly, the
analysis focuses on background characteristics such as
mother tongue, migration status, labour market activity
and occupation by reading skill levels. The second
component compares self-assessed literacy skills to
directly-measured literacy skills. This second component
also examines the perceived needs of Canadians with selfevaluated skill inadequacies and their choices with regard
to future training.
As illustrated in table 4.1, the comparison of the
reading skills by mother tongue 4 reveals the importance of
this variable for immigrants. Again the largest difference in
percentages are noted at level 1. Sixteen percent of
Canadians with a mother tongue other than English or
French are at that level compared to 2% for those with
English as their first language and 4% for those with
French as their mother tongue. Only 45% of Canadians
with a mother tongue other than English or French
achieved level 4.
4.1 Background characteristics
The gap is even wider if the comparison of the reading
skill profiles between Canadian-born and immigrants is
restricted to those who reported a non-official language as
their mother tongue. Only 36% of immigrants who
reported a mother tongue other than English or French had
assessed abilities allowing them to deal with most
Canadian everyday materials (level 4). Twenty-two
percent of such immigrants were classified at level 1.
4.1.1 Migration status
Aside from schooling, a key factor related to literacy
skills in Canada's official languages is the extent of
knowledge of and exposure to English or French printed
material. Two percent of Canada's adult population
reported having no knowledge of English or French. A
much larger share of adults aged 16-69 in Canada have, to
varying degrees, limited abilities in English or French.
More than a million adult Canadians (6%) reported a main
4
'Mother tongue' in this chapter includes multiple responses.
In the survey, 1% of the adult population reported more than
one first language. The total of single and multiple
responses will be greater than the total population because
multiple responses are included in each group.
Chart 4.1
Reading level by migration status, Canadians aged 16-69
80
80
60
60
40
40
20
20
0
r.; : .~.• ~ 'r•>~~': `
~: ~ff,+.^.~ :•:•:t~:~: •
!f
Level 1
0
Level 4
Level 3
Level 2
® Immigrants
Born in Canada
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Table 4.1
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by mother tongue showing reading skill level, Canada
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Canada totar
17,705
English*^
French
Other
Born in Canada
Immigrants
10,247
4,475
2,875
966
1,909
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
5%
10%
22%
63%
7%
21%
25%
25%
24%
25%
71%
58%
45%
62%
36%
2%
4% (Q)
16%
(1)
22%
13%
15%
11%(Q)
17%
Source: Survey of literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
• Total includes "Not Stated" mother tongue.
Multiple responses are included in each category reported.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
Note:
32
Almost 1 million adults born in Canada reported a
mother tongue other than English or French. Their reading
skill profile is, however, similar to the overall adult
Canadian population profile, suggesting that length and
variety of exposure to printed material in English or
French, especially through formal education, are also
essential for acquiring reading skills. The age when one
of Canada's official languages is learned and the length of
residency in Canada are two variables that proxy for
exposure to everyday printed material in French or
English.
Chart 4.2 illustrates the key role that the age when one
of Canada's official language is learned plays in the
development of reading skills in that o fficial language.
Only about 13% of Canadians who reported a mother
tongue other than English or French and who started to
learn one of the official languages after the age of 15 were
classified at level 4. Among Canadians who likely received
their primary and secondary education in some language
other than English or French, 43°%o had virtually no reading
abilities in either of Canada's official languages (level 1
reading) while 25% had only key word or equivalent
reading abilities (level 2). In comparison, only 4% of
Canadians who reported a mother tongue other than
English or French and who learned one of the official
languages before the age of 16 were classified at level 1
and 12% at level 2.
Almost all Canadians who started to learn English or
French after the age of 16 are immigrants who moved to
Canada as adults. They represent 24% of Canada's total
immigrant population and 4% of the adult population aged
16 to 69. Immigrants who reported English or French as
their first language have slightly higher reading skill
profiles than the overall adult population (table 4.2). Sixtyseven percent of immigrants with English or French as a
mother tongue were categorized at level 4 compared to
63% for the overall population and 48% for the general
immigrant population.
While mother tongue and age when one of the official
languages was learned are clearly related to reading skill
development, the influence of the length of residency in
Canada on the evolution of the reading skills of immigrants
is much more difficult to assess. The schooling of
immigrants and the age at immigration are also dominant
factors in acquiring reading skills. Table 4.3 examines the
reading skills profiles of immigrants by period of
immigration.
Chart 4.2
Reading level by age when started learning English or French, Canadians aged 16-69
with mother tongue other than English or French
Learned English or French
before the age of 16
Learned English or French
after the age of 15
43% Level 1
56% Level 4
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
33
Table 4.2
Percentage distribution of adults born outside Canada (aged 16-69) by reading skill level, Canada
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Level 1
All adults born outside
Canada
Adults born outside Canada
with English or French
mother tongue
3,177
1,301
Level 3
Level 4
14%(Q)
24%
48%
9%(Q)
22%
67%
Level 2
14%(Q)
(1)
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
Table 4.3
Percentage distribution of adults born outside Canada (aged 16-69) by period of immigration showing
reading skill level, Canada
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Level 1 Level 2
All adults born
outside Canada*
Prior to 1960
1960-1969
1970-1979
1980-1989
Level 3 Level 4
3,177
14%(Q)
14%(3)
24%
48%
926
674
856
675
15%(Q)
16%(Q)
8%(Q)
19%
12%(Q)
12%(Q)
12%(Q)
21%
26%
18%
26%
24%
4 7%
54%
54%
36%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
Total includes "not stated" year of immigration.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
Reading skills are lowest among immigrants who
came to Canada during the last decade -- only 36%
achieved level 4. Almost 2 in 5 of these recent immigrants
are classified at levels 1 and 2, indicating that many have
only a limited knowledge of English or French. The
reading skills profile of immigrants who came to Canada
before 1960 is also relatively low, with 14% of these
immigrants classified at reading level 1 and only 47% at
reading level 4, reflecting an older population with lower
levels of educational attainment. Interestingly, the
immigrants who came during the 1970's have the highest
reading skills profile with a relatively small percentage at
level 1 and more than half (54%) at level 4.
In the general population, schooling is the dominant
factor for acquiring reading skills. For immigrants,
however, while this relationship is a strong one, a multitude
34
of other factors influence reading proficiency, at least for
the adaptation period to the new environment. Table 4.4
compares the reading skills of immigrants to those of the
Canadian-born population by highest level of schooling.
The impact of these other factors on the reading skills of
immigrants is well illustrated in this table. At all levels of
schooling, the immigrants had lower reading skill profiles
than the Canadian-born population. Even at levels such as
secondary school completion and postsecondary training,
the differences are appreciable. Only 39% of the
immigrants who have completed high school had assessed
reading skills at level 4 compared to 75% for those born in
Canada. Similarly, 66% of the immigrants who reported
some postsecondary training were classified at level 4
compared to 87% for those born in Canada having
equivalent qualifications.
Table 4.4
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by highest level of schooling and migration status showing
reading skill level, Canada
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Level 1
Level 2
36%
27%
32%
15%(Q)
13%
(1)
Level 3
Level 4
Elementary or no schooling
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
1,396
422
20%
51 %
Some secondary
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
4,051
376
2%
(1)
13%
17%(Q)
36%
32%
49%
36%
Secondary completed
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
3,611
570
(1)
(1)
4%
22%
21%
26%
75%
39%
Postsecondary
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
5,375
1,673
(1)
(1)
2%(Q)
11%
7%(Q)
23%
87%
66%
Source: Survey of literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Includes trade schools
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
4.1.2 Language
The reading skills of adults born in Canada also
exhibit variations when examined by official language.
Chart 4.3 shows the reading skill levels of the Canadianborn population by language used to complete the
simulation tasks. While the test items were of similar
difficulty5 , the reading skills of those who completed the
tasks in French are lower than those who completed them
in English. These differences are apparent at all levels but
are most important at levels 2 and 4. Seven percent of
those who took the test in English were classified at level 2
compared to 13% of those who completed the test in
French. Similarly, at level 4, the comparable percentages
are 70% for English and 58% for French.
Interestingly, these differences in the reading skills
between English and French remain constant even when
different measures of languages are examined. Comparisons of the two populations based on first language, main
language6 and language of the test, yield almost identical
results.
All respondents could choose English or French to
complete the simulation tasks. Almost all of those who
reported English as their mother tongue completed the test
in English. In comparison, as many as 12% (representing
more than half a million adults) who reported French as
their first language completed the test in English. This
percentage drops to 3% when main language is
considered. Still, only very minor variations exist when
comparing reading skills by language of test, by main
language or by mother tongue.
The differences in the reading skills between
anglophones and francophones is explained, in large part,
by historical differences in the educational attainment of
the two populations. Prior to school system reforms in all
provinces, in general, educational attainment of the
francophone population was lower than that of the
anglophone population. In fact, it is only among the
younger adult population (those less than 35 years of age)
that the differences by school level are minimal.
Table 4.5 compares the reading skill profiles of the
Canadian-born population by mother tongue and the
highest level of schooling. It is interesting to note that the
only level of schooling where the percentage reporting
French as mother tongue is greater than the percentage
reporting English mother tongue is the level "no schooling
or elementary schooling only". In fact, 18% of the
population with a French mother tongue reported no
schooling or elementary schooling only, compared to 5%
with an English mother tongue. Not surprisingly, the
largest concentration of this educational group with French
as mother tongue is at reading level 2 (41% compared to
29% for Canadians with English as mother tongue).
5 Item Response Theory was used to estimate separately the
s
relative level of difficulty of all items in English and French.
"First language" (mother tongue) is the language first
learned in childhood. "Main language" is the language in
which a person is most comfortable.
35
Chart 4.3
Reading level by language used to complete tasks, Canadian-born population aged 16-69
English
2%
French
Level 1 7% Level 2
21% Level 3
58% Level 4
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Table 4.5
Percentage distribution of adults born in Canada (aged 16-69) who reported English or French as mother
tongue by highest level of schooling showing reading skill level
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
No schooling or elementary
English
French
Some secondary
English
French
Secondary completed
English
French
Postsecondary (non-university)
English
French
University
English
French
557
22%
29%
15% (Q)
20%
41%
33%
730
2,591
1,255
(1)
(1)
12%
15%
34%
39°%°
44%
2,287
1,135
(1)
(1)
1,816
818
(1)
(1)
1,769
630
-
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada. 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
36
Level 4
3%(Q)
6%(Q)
29°ro
10%(0)
52%
19%
23%
77%
(1)
(1)
13%
14%(Q)
85%
(1)
(1)
6%(Q)
(1)
93%
70%
81%
90%
Table 4.6
Percentage distribution of adults born in Canada (aged 16-69) who reported English or French as mother
tongue by age group showing reading skill level
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Level 1
16-24
English
French
25-34
English
French
35-44
English
French
45-54
English
French
55-69
English
French
Level 3
Level 4
4%(Q)
6%(Q)
22%
25%
74%
69%
Level 2
2,105
815
(1)
2,526
1,184
(1)
(1)
4%(Q)
4%(Q)
13%
22%
83%
73%
1,905
1,047
(1 )
(1)
3%(Q)
6%(Q)
17%
24%
79%
68%
1,195
716
(1)
8%(Q)
20%
27%
30%
63%
45%
1,361
817
9%
14%
18%
35%
32%
26%
41%
25%
(1)
(1)
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
In general, the gap between the two populations tends
to narrow when higher levels of schooling are compared.
For those with partial secondary training and those who
completed their secondary schooling, the level 4
differences are around eight percentage points higher for
the English mother tongue population. The differences are
smallest at the university level.
Comparing the two populations by age group (table
4.6) produces results that are consistent with those
obtained for schooling. For the Canadian-born population,
the reading skills of the younger age group (16-24) are
similar among those who reported an English mother
tongue and those who reported a French mother tongue.
For all the other age groups, however, the gaps between
the two language groups are significant. Among the 25-34
and 35-44 age groups, differences of about ten percentage
points are noted at level 4. Significant differences are also
observed at level 3 for these two age groups. For the 2534 age group, 13% of those with an English mother tongue
were classified at level 3 compared to 22% for those with
a French mother tongue. For the age group 35-44, the
comparative percentages are 17% (English) and 24%
(French). These results are in line with the results for
schooling, in particular with regard to the gap between
Anglophones and Francophones who had some secondary
schooling or who had completed secondary school.
transfer. In fact, if the reading skills of all those who
reported French as their mother tongue are examined by
language of test, the pa tt ern remains and, overall, those
who took the test in English show higher reading skills
than those who did it in their mother tongue.
The gap in the reading skills between the two
language groups is mostly concentrated at levels 3 and 4
for the younger population. However, the percentages for
partial secondary and for secondary completion are almost
equivalent, suggesting that differing reading skills between
the populations must be linked to other factors such as
differing experiences with everyday reading materials.
4.1.3 Labour market activity
The globalization of national economies causes much
concern about the adaptability of the labour force to a
rapidly changing work environment. This adaptability
presumes the presence of skills allowing the acquisition
and application of new knowledge using a variety of
printed material. This prerequisite is essential to fully
react to an even faster restructuring of the job market.
These changing work conditions not only affect existing
jobs but also job opportunities favouring the rapid growth
of certain occupations and an equally rapid decline of
others.
This consistent pa tt ern in the results comparing
performance by English and French mother tongue can be
extended to discount the possible effect of language
37
This section examines the reading skills of Canada's
adults in relation to labour market activity in the past
twelve months and the next section looks at employment
characteristics (occupation and industry).
For this survey, the labour force universe had a
reference period of 52 weeks (that is, the year preceding
data collection, Nov. 1988 - Oct. 1989). The employed
population includes all those who reported at least one
week of work during the 52 weeks preceding the survey.
Similarly, the unemployed population groups all Canadians
who where unemployed at least one week (that is those
without work and looking for work). The population out of
the labour force is all adult Canadians who reported at
least one week out of the labour force during the reference
period. The three universes are not mutually exclusive:
persons who reported having worked at some time during
the reference period, being unemployed at another and
also having weeks out of the labour force are part of all
three universes.
Fourteen million adult Canadians (80% of Canada's
adult population) reported weeks worked at some point in
time during the twelve months preceding the collection
period (October 1989). Table 4.7 presents the reading
skills of the employed labour force distinguishing full and
part-time work. While the reading skills of the employed
labour force are higher than the overall population
Table 4.7
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16 - 69 by labour market activity showing reading skill level, Canada
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
All adults
17,705
5%
10%
22%
63%
Employed L.F.
14,094
3%
7%
21%
69%
11,532
2,563
3%
(1)
7%
8%
21%
22%
69%
69%
Full-time workers"
Part-time workers
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
• Employed labour force refers to persons who reported at least one week worked at a job or business during the 12 months preceding the
survey.
"` Full-time workers are those who reported working 30 or more hours a week.
Table 4.8
Percentage distribution of employed adults aged 16-69 by number of weeks worked during the twelve months
preceding the survey showing reading skill level, Canada
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
All adults
17,705
5%
10%
22%
63%
All employed`
14,094
3%
7%
21%
69%
11,002
3,048
3%
(1)
7%
20%
23%
70%
65%
Full-year workers"'
Part-year workers
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
9%
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
• Employed Labour force refers to persons who reported at least one week worked at a job or business during the twelve months preceding the
survey.
• Full year workers are those who reported having worked 40 or more weeks during the twelve months preceding the survey. Part-year workers
are those who reported less than 40 weeks worked. "Not Stated" to weeks worked are included in the total "All Employed".
38
(explained in part by the fact that most of the older
population is out of the labour force), the reading levels of
part-time and full-time workers do not differ significantly.
In both cases, one employed adult out of ten had limited
reading skills (levels 1 and 2) while another 2 out of ten
could deal with well laid-out documents or simple texts
(reading level 3). Close to 70% of those who worked at a
job or business in the twelve months preceding the survey
had skills that enabled them to deal with most everyday
reading material (reading level 4).
If work intensity is considered, larger differences in the
reading skills among the employed population are
apparent. Table 4.8 compares the reading skills of the fulltime employed labour force, separating those who
reported 40 or more weeks worked (full-year workers) from
those who worked less than 40 weeks (part-year workers).
The comparison reveals that the reading skills of the partyear workers are lower than those of the full-year workers.
Sixty-five percent of the part-year workers were classified
at reading level 4 compared to 70% for the full-year
workers.
Another dimension of work intensity that can be
examined is the number of weeks of unemployment.
Fourteen percent of the adult population reported weeks of
unemployment during the twelve months preceding the
survey. Among this population, the majority (over 60%)
were unemployed for less than 26 weeks while the
remainder experienced periods of unemployment
exceeding half a year. The comparison of the reading
skills by weeks of unemployment reveals a significant gap
among the two groups (table 4.9). Only 47% of the adults
who reported a period of unemployment exceeding six
months had level 4 reading skills compared to 67% for
those with a shorter period of unemployment. A third of
those without work for 6 months or more had level 3
reading skills and close to one in five had limited reading
skills (levels 1 and 2).
The out of the labour force population includes
persons who reported one or more weeks during which
they did not work and did not look for work. Students,
persons staying at home to raise a family and retired
workers form the majority of this population. In total, 34%
of the adult population reported one week or more out of
the labour force. Close to half of this population was aged
45 or older. It is therefore not surprising to note that their
reading skills are lower than the skills of the labour force
population and that of the overall adult population (chart
4.4). One in four adult Canadians not in the labour force
had limited reading skills (levels 1 and 2). Just over half of
this population had reading skills enabling them to deal
with most everyday printed materials.
Table 4.9
Percentage distribution of unemployed adults aged 16-69 by number of weeks of unemployment during the
twelve months preceding the survey showing reading skill level, Canada
Population
(thousands)
All adults
All unemployed*
26 weeks or more of
unemployment
Less than 26 weeks of
unemployment
17,705
Reading level
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
5%
10%
22%
63%
9%
27%
60%
33%
47%
23%
67%
2,490
4%(Q)
969
8%(Q)
1,522
(1)
12%(Q)
8%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note: Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
Unemployed labour force refers to adults who reported one or more week of unemployement (i.e., without work and looking for work) during the
twelve months preceding the survey.
39
4.1.4 Employment characteristics
literacy skills by their workers. The opposite is also likely
true, especially for workers in unskilled or semi skilled
occupations.
-
Employment characteristics are also reflective of the
adjustment of the labour market to economic conditions.
Similarly, the literacy requirements of jobs are indicative of
specific working conditions. The literacy requirements of
jobs vary over time as technologies, production processes
and organizational structures of industries evolve. As a
result, workers within a particular occupation or industry
will have a variety of educational characteristics and work
experiences at any point in time.
Functional literacy skills are basic tools required to
deal with adaptation periods resulting from changes in job
content or in labour market conditions. They allow workers
to undertake training or to acquire new knowledge on the
job.
On the other hand, work environment probably also
plays an important role in the evolution of workers'
functional literacy skills. Workers in industries where
printed information is present throughout the organization
are likely to exhibit high reading skill profiles; the literacy
demands in these industries contribute to the retention of
Industry
The Labour Force Survey 7 defines industry as the
kind of business or industrial activity in which a person is
employed. In table 4.10, the reading skills of adult
Canadians reporting work activity are compared by
industry division. In general, workers in service industries
(which are more heavily information-oriented than other
industries) have higher reading skill profiles. More than
70% of the workers in industries such as finance,
insurance and real estate, community services, services to
business, public administration, wholesale trade and
transportation, have skills sufficient to meet most everyday
demands (level 4).
T
The industry and occupation information was extracted from
the April 1989 Labour Force file which was used to select
the LSUDA sample. Therefore, the Information refers to the
lob of the respondent during the LFS reference week. For
those not working that week, the information refers to the
most recent job held in the previous five years (i.e., before
April 1989).
Chart 4.4
Reading levels, Canadians aged 16-69 who are out of the labour force*
53% Level 4
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
• Includes those with 1 or more weeks during which they did not work or look for work during the 12 months
preceding the survey.
40
Table 4.10
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16 69 by industry showing reading skill level, Canada
-
Population
(thousands)
Reading level
Levels 1 & 2
Level 3
Level 4
All adults'
17,705
15%
23%
63%
All industries
Agriculture
Other primary industries
Manufacturing
Non-durable goods
Durable goods
Construction
Transportation
Trade
Wholesale
Retail
Finance, insurance and
real estate
Service industries
Community services
Personal se rv ices
Service to business
and miscellaneous services
Public administration
15,315
487
374
11%
21%
21%
21%
31%
29%
67%
48%
50%
1,304
1,299
745
1,090
18%
14%
15%
8%(Q)
27%
26%
27%
19%
56%
61%
58%
73%
640
2,097
8%(Q)
10%
18%
26%
64%
15%(Q)
81%
14%
26%
76%
57%
17%
16%
74%
78°/o
761
(1)
2,677
1,437
9%
17%
9%(Q)
6%(Q)
1,240
1,164
74%
Source Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
(1) The sampling variability for this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
The industry information, which was pulled from the April 1989 Labour Force Survey file used to select the LSUDA sample, refers to the job of
the respondent during the IFS reference week. For those not working that week, it refers to the main job in the previous 5 years.
At the opposite end, only half of the workers in
agriculture and the other primary industries (forestry,
mining, fishing and trapping) have skills to meet everyday
reading demands. Over one in five workers in these
industries have limited reading skills (levels 1 and 2). High
percentages at reading levels 1 and 2 are also found in
manufacturing, personal services and in construction. A
large immigrant population less familiar with Canada's
official languages in these industry groups explains, in
part, the high percentages at the two lowest reading levels.
The non-durable goods industries (for example, food and
beverages, leather products, textiles) within the
manufacturing industries also have noticeably low-skilled
populations, with 18% of the workers being at reading
levels 1 and 2.
Industries with low reading skill profiles also have
larger percentages of workers at level 3. More than a
quarter of the workers in these industries were classified at
that level (31% for agriculture). These percentages could
give rise to concern because these industries, especially,
are experiencing impo rt ant and rapid change.
Occupation
Many occupations8 are closely associated with
particular industries (for example, farmers to agriculture,
fishermen to fishing, hunting and trapping). Therefore,
similarities in the reading skills for these occupations to the
overall industry reading profiles is expected. Farming and
other occupations in the primary sector, as well as product
fabricating (manufacturing), show reading skill distributions
similar to their industry -- less than half of the workers in
these occupations are classified at reading level 4 (table
4.11).
Within the service occupations, the small group that
includes janitors and other elemental service occupations
shows less than half (44%) of the workers with skills at
level 4. Twenty-five percent of the workers in this
occupational group were classified at reading levels 1 and
2 (explained in part by a large immigrant component).
Similar situations are observed within the product
8
Occupation in the Labour Force Survey is defined as the
kind of work clone by individuals according to their main
activities or duties.
41
Table 4.11
Percentage distribution for adults aged 16 69 by occupation showing reading skill level, Canada
-
Reading level
Population
(thousands)
Levels 1 & 2
Level 3
Level 4
All adults*
17,705
15%
23%
63%
All occupations
Managerial, administrative
& related occupations
Natural sciences, engineering &
social sciences
Teaching & related
Health & related
Clerical & related
Sales
Service
Farming & other primary
Processing & machining
Product fabricating
Construction trades
Other
15,315
11%
21%
67%
1,823
(1)
12%
85%
913
693
728
2,584
1,481
2,329
692
967
1,094
749
1,263
(1 )
(1)
10%(Q)
4%(Q)
7%(Q)
21%
21%
18%
23%
17%
13%
10%
(1)
14%(Q)
20%
24%
27%
33 0/0
30%
28%
29%
22%
86%
92%
76%
75%
69%
52%
46%
52%
49%
54%
65%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada. 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(1) The sampling variability for this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
The occupation information, which was pulled from the April 1989 Labour Force Survey file that was used to select the LSUDA sample, refers to
the job of the respondent during the reference week. For those not working that week, it refers to the main job in the past 5 years.
fabricating occupations. As many as 44% of the workers
in textile processing occupations were classified at levels 1
and 2, and 36% of the workers in wood processing
occupations (except pulp and papermaking) were
classified at these levels.
Reading skills are lower than the overall adult
population in the construction trade occupations (54% at
level 4), the processing and machining occupations (52%
at level 4) and the service occupations (52% at level 4).
Close to one in five workers in these occupational groups
are at levels 1 and 2.
As expected, the occupational groups consisting of
professional and highly skilled occupations show high
reading skill distributions. Eighty-five percent of those in
managerial, administrative and related occupations, 86% in
natural sciences, engineering and social sciences
occupations, and 92% in teaching and related occupations
had skills sufficient to meet most everyday reading
demands. The health and related occupations, clerical and
related occupations, and sales occupations (less homogeneous groups) had lower reading skills, with roughly 3
out of 4 workers being classified at level 4.
42
4.2 Literacy skill levels in relation to
self-assessment and perceived
needs
Research has shown that persons with low literacy
skills tend to be reluctant to reveal their abilities and many
develop strategies to conceal their problem. And yet, an
essential step in skills improvement -- whether it be
reading and writing skills, comprehension skills or
communication skills -- is recognizing the need to improve.
In this regard, a number of questions dealing with selfassessment of literacy skills and perceived needs were
included in the background questionnaire.
Table 4.12 shows the results by reading level to the
self-assessment question. Respondents were asked to
rate their reading and writing skills in English or French on
a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 was poor and 5 was excellent.
Fifty percent of Canadian adults with level 1 reading ability
rated their skills at the two lowest points on the scale and a
further 28% rated themselves at the midpoint. Level 2
readers were more positive in their self-assessments.
Only 15% rated themselves below the midpoint while 45%
rated themselves at 4 or 5. The majority of level 3 and 4
readers rated themselves at the top two points on the
scale (62% and 82% respectively).
Table 4.12
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 by reading skill level showing self-assessment of skills in
English or French, Canada
Self-assessment of skills
Population
(thousands)
1
(Poor)
2
3
4
5
(Excellent)
40%
31%
16%
(1)
18%
24%
37%
Canada
17,673'
2%
4%
23%
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
853
1,694
3,979
11,146
32%
(1)
(1)
-
18%
12%
4%
2%
28%
39%
33%
17%
27%
38%
45%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
• "Not stated" to the self-assessment question are not included in the table.
(1) The sampling variability for this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
Note:
Table 4.13
Percentage distribution of Canadian adults aged 16-69 by reading skill level showing level of satisfaction with
reading and writing skills in English or French
Population
(thousands)
809'
Satisfied
Dissatisfied
Level 1
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
407
402
57%
71%
44%
43%
29%
56%
Level 2
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
1,693
1,253
440
82%
88%
66%
18%
12%
34%
Level 3
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
3,970
3,216
754
91%
92%
85%
9%
8%
15%
Level 4
Born in Canada
Born outside Canada
11,122
9,585
1,538
96%
96%
95%
4%
4%
(1)
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
"Not stated" and "No Opinion" to the satisfaction question are not included in the table.
(1) The sampling variability for this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
Note:
Respondents were also asked if they were satisfied
with their reading and writing skills in English or French.
The results of this question by reading level are presented
in table 4.13. It is somewhat surprising that 54% of level 1
readers and 82% of level 2 readers reported being
satisfied with their reading and writing skills. It could be
that Canadians at these levels have found ways to cope
with their limited reading abilities and hence are satisfied
with their skills. They may, for example, try to avoid
situations that require reading. Or, Canadians with a main
language other than English or French may limit their
reading to texts written in their main language. This
infoi mation has impo rt ant repercussions for those who
must motivate clients to register and a tt end literacy
programs. The fact that only 9% of Canadians with level 3
reading skills are dissatisfied with their skills also has
implications for marketing improvement programs to this
subgroup.
43
Table 4.13 also shows response to the satisfaction
question for the Canadian-born and immigrant populations.
A significantly larger proportion of immigrants at levels 1
and 2 are dissatisfied with their skills -- 56% at level 1 and
34% at level 2 -- compared to 29% at level 1 and 12% at
level 2 for the Canadian-born population.
When asked if they felt their reading skills in English
or French were adequate for their daily activities, 94% of
Canadians answered "yes". Respondents who reported
having either worked or looked for work in the last twelve
months were also asked if they felt their reading skills in
English or French were limiting their job opportunities.
Eight percent answered this question affirmatively. It is
interesting to compare the responses to this question by
the two subgroups: those who worked and those who
looked for work. Twenty-one percent of those who looked
for work perceived their skills to be limiting their job
opportunities, compared to 7% for the population who
worked.
Along this same line, the working population
responded to a question regarding the adequacy of their
reading skills for the job. Ninety-eight percent felt their
skills were adequate for their job.
Respondents who indicated that their reading or
writing skills were inadequate (representing approximately
1.2 million Canadian adults) were asked a series of
questions regarding training programs. One such question
concerned the perceived usefulness of certain types of
training programs for dealing with daily activities. Around
one in three reported that a "program that teaches you to
read instructions such as on medicine bottles or packaged
goods" would help them in their daily activities. While
about 60% felt a program to help read business and
government forms would be helpful, less than half (around
40%) considered a "program that teaches you to read
newspapers, magazines or books" to be helpful. Sixty-six
percent reported that programs teaching the writing of
letters and notes would be helpful.
Respondents who indicated their skills were
inadequate were also asked about their preference for
training instructors. Forty-eight percent indicated they
would prefer a teacher from a local school or community
college, 20% would prefer a volunteer or tutor from a local
literacy program, 13% would prefer a friend or family
member and 19% indicated no preference (chart 4.5).
Chart 4.5
Training program preference of Canadians aged 16-69 with self-assessed inadequacies
19% No preference
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
44
Respondents with self-perceived inadequate skills
were also asked about their current enrollment or potential
enrollment in training programs. Only 9% indicated they
are currently taking instruction to improve their reading
and writing skills in English or French. A further 52%
reported that they might, someday, take such instruction
(chart 4.6).
Literacy program enrollment figures have traditionally
been low and the above results suggest that motivating
Canadians to register for literacy programs may continue
to pose a challenge. Level 1 and 2 readers are candidates
for the traditional type of literacy programs. And while
level 1 readers do recognize that they have low skills, the
majority of them are satisfied with their current abilities.
Level 2 readers may be more reluctant to talk about their
low abilities with others and in fact, a large majority
indicate satisfaction with their level of proficiency. It is
less obvious what type of instruction may be required for
Canadians at level 3 but it is clear that although most
Canadians in this group do not identify themselves as
candidates for skill improvement, the group is at risk if the
literacy demands of society increase.
Chart 4.6
Current or potential enrollment in training programs, Canadians aged 16-69
with self-assessed inadequacies
9% Taking
39% Wouldn't take
52% Might take
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
45
5.0 Concluding Comments
The levels used in the reading and numeracy
components provide a ready means for matching the skills
available in the population with the demands placed on
individuals in particular circumstances. The survey results
provide a direct assessment of the actual functional
literacy skills of Canadians and provide a context for
analyzing present and future requirements.
Globally, the survey reveals that sixteen percent of
adult Canadians have limited reading skills and cannot,
individually, face most of the demands encountered daily.
This group is mostly composed of two segments:
Canadians with limited school attainment (close to half are
over the age of 55) and first generation immigrants less
familiar with Canada's official languages. Another 22% of
Canadians have abilities enabling them to deal with simple
or well laid out text, provided the task is not too difficult.
The majority of these Canadians (62%) have secondary
education (partial or completed) and they are almost
equally distributed among age groups. Whether all
Canadians with assessed literacy deficiencies require
attention awaits research on the frequency of reading
demands that cannot be met. The Survey of Literacy
Skills used in Daily Activities was not designed to answer
that question; but rather, to clarify the characteristics of the
population at risk.
In this overview, only part of the data collected by
LSUDA has been discussed. A number of other issues
related to literacy in Canada can be explored using this
national database. The second part of this publication
further explores the adult literacy situation of Canadians by
focusing the results in a range of fields.
References
Cervero, R. M. (1985, April). Is a common definition of
adult literacy possible? Paper presented at the annual
meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, Chicago.
Cervero, R. M.(1980).Does the Texas Adult
Performance Level Test measure functional competence?
Adult Education, 30, 152-165.
The Creative Research Group. (1987).Literacy in
Canada: a research report (Prepared for Southam News,
Ottawa). Toronto: The author.
Fagan, W. T. (1988). Literacy in Canada: A critique of the
Southam report.
The Alberta Journal of Educational
Research, 34(3), 224-231.
Fagan, W. T. (1989, February). A critical look at literacy.
Quill and Quire (p. 30).
Guthrie, J. T. (1988). Locating information in documents:
Reading Research
examination of a cognitive model.
Quarterly, 23, 178-199.
Guthrie, J. T., & Kirsch, I. S. (1987). Distinctions between
reading comprehension and locating information in text.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 220-227.
Jones, S., & Librande, L. (1987). Ontario test of adult
functional literacy. Ottawa: Centre for the Study of Adult
Literacy, Carleton University.
Déry,
L. (1987). Test ontarien
des adultes. O tt awa:
Centre for the Study of Adult Literacy, Carleton University.
Jones, S., &
d'alphabétisation fonctionnelle
Kirsch, I. S., & Guthrie, J. T. (1981). The concept and
measurement of functional literacy. Reading Research
Quarterly, 13, 485-507.
Kirsch, I. S., & Jungeblut, A. (1986). Literacy: profiles of
America's young adults
(Final Report, 16-PL-01).
Princeton, NJ: The National Assessment of Educational
Progress.
Kirsch, I. S., & Mosenthal, P. B. (1990).Exploring
document literacy: variables underlying the performance of
young adults. Reading Research Quarterly, 25, 5-30.
Lave, J.(1988).Cognition in practice: mind,
mathematics, and culture in everyday life.
Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Mikulecky, L.(1985, March).Literacy task analysis:
defining and measuring occupational literacy demands.
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, Chicago.
Murphy, R.T. (1973). Adult functional reading study (PR
73-48). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Murphy, R.T. (1975). Adult functional reading study (PR
75-2). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Odell, L., & Goswami, D. (1985). Writing in nonacademic
settings. New York: Guilford Press.
Satin, A., Jones, S., Kelly, K. & Montigny, G. (1990).
National literacy skill assessment: the Canadian
experience. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
American Statistical Association, Anaheim.
Appendix I
Question selection criteria
The choice of background questions had to respect
certain constraints associated with household surveys,
among which respondent burden was especially critical.
Questions that attempt to measure factors related to
learning, a tt itudes or environment during childhood were
excluded from the survey as they present several
problems in the context of an adult population survey.
Firstly, questions probing these areas pose serious recall
problems. Secondly, to measure the likely impact of such
factors on the literacy abilities of respondents with
adequate depth, a series of questions is required. To
confine the interview to a reasonable length, only
characteristics which have a direct bearing on literacy
relatively
skills, and for which measurement is
straightforward, were retained.
The selection of the items for the "screening"
questionnaire and "main" questionnaire was done
according to predefined levels for reading, writing and
numeracy ability. The number and kinds of items in the
test were also limited so that the interview would last about
one hour. Further, in light of the importance of reading
relative to writing and the long time required to complete
writing tasks, the number of writing tasks was limited. Also
because of the need to have middle and lower level
literacy skills measured with greater precision than at
higher levels, more items were selected at the low end of
the scale.
Several other criteria also played a role in defining
what tasks would be included. Most importantly, tasks had
to be of a type commonly encountered in daily living in
Canada. The inclusion of tasks which were outside the
experience of the majority of Canadians would have given
an unfair advantage to those Canadians who had
previously been exposed to a particular task. Secondly,
the material selected had to be clear and unambiguous.
Ambiguity would increase the chance of getting an item
wrong because of misinterpretation and hence, mask the
intrinsic difficulty of the task.
As well, the items or tasks had to be suited for a
household survey directed to the general adult population.
For most respondents, this survey would have been their
first exposure to a test environment since leaving the
formal school system. Coupled with the fact that the
federal government was conducting the test, the nature of
the survey played an important part in limiting the length
and complexity of the items included on the test. Thus,
reading aloud tasks and tasks more commonly
encountered in academic settings, such as interpretation of
poetry, were excluded.
Interviewing
The information was collected during October, 1989,
in a personal interview in the respondent's home. All tasks
were administered in accordance with rigorous interviewer
instructions.
Labour Force Survey interviewers carried out the data
collection. Their training was particulary oriented towards
methods of administering the tasks in a neutral manner
and adhering strictly to directives. The sensitive nature of
the subject matter was stressed and they were trained to
deal with situations involving language difficulties, low
literacy skill levels, reluctance and other difficulties which
might arise during the interview.
If a respondent could not communicate with the
interviewer in one of the official languages, an interpreter
could be used to set up an appointment and to complete
the background questionnaire. The respondent was then
asked to attempt the simulated tasks without the
assistance of the interpreter. A count was kept of persons
who were incapable of performing any of the simulated
tasks because of language difficulties.
Appendix II
Some notions of literacy
The standard definitions of functional literacy,
particularly the widely influential 1978 UNESCO definition
A person is functionally literate who can engage in all
those activities in which literacy is required for
effective functioning of his/her group and community
and also for enabling him/her to continue to use
reading, writing and calculation for his/her own and the
community's development.
are phrased in terms of the outcomes of literacy, the status
of a literate person, not in terms of the underlying
competency(ies) that permit an individual to "engage in all
those activities...". The UNESCO definition implies that
literacy is relative, so that a person may be functionally
literate at one time in one society, but not at a different
time or in a different society. If this were the concern of a
particular study, then it would be proper to focus on such
outcomes. But if the focus is on what needs to be done to
help individuals who are not functionally literate, or to
predict how many may need training (and what kind of
training, were the literacy demands of society to increase),
then attention to underlying skills is necessary. Only by
matching the skills present in the individuals who
constitute the society with the skills needed to "engage in
all those activities..." can any deficiencies be properly
identified.
Since the purpose of the Survey of Literacy Skills in
Daily Activities was to profile the literacy skills in Canadian
society, it was essential that the results be reported not in
terms of the outcome of functional literacy, but in terms of
the constitutive skills.
The functional literacy continuum
It is generally agreed that functional literacy skills do
not fall neatly into categories, but rather form a continuum.
It is possible, however, to identify points along this
continuum that deserve particular attention because they
are useful for policy and program development and
educational planning. None of these points, however,
divides the continuum into "literate" and "illiterate".
Neither term specifies particular tasks and skills that
characterize any individual because of the relative nature
of functional literacy. The LSUDA "levels" are simply
points along this functional literacy continuum that it was
believed would be useful to governments in identifying
types of programs needed to deal with the literacy
problem. They would also be useful to literacy providers in
identifying clients -- possibly new kinds of clients -- for
their services. In identifying points of interest in this way, it
was important to rely on an adequate theory of functional
literacy, particularly as it pertains to functional reading.
The work of Mikulecky on the task context of functional
literacy (Mikulecky, 1985) and the work of Kirsch and
Guthrie on the cognitive differences between school and
functional reading (Guthrie, 1988; Guthrie & Kirsch, 1987)
were useful in establishing a framework.
In addition to the more theoretical work of Mikulecky,
Kirsch, and Guthrie, there have been a number of tests of
functional literacy. Of central importance to LSUDA was
the test developed in 1986 for the National Assessment of
Educational Progress survey of young adult literacy in the
United States (Kirsch & Jungeblut, 1986). While the
authors of this NAEP study did not formally label points
along the continuum, they did report and discuss results at
certain points along it. The examination of these results
was useful in verifying the proposed points for the LSUDA,
even though the data were not cast to allow the conversion
of the NAEP results to the Canadian scheme.
The measurement of functional literacy using levels
Having identified certain points along the functional
literacy continuum to use as markers (that is, the LSUDA
levels), and having created and administered tasks to test
for those points, individuals could then be located along
the continuum. In placing individuals into the levels, it was
the--tasks that
necessary to relate the indivrdu a s scor e
define the various levels. This was accomplished through
the use of item response theory.
Item response theory (IRT) is a procedure used to
summarize the pattern of answers on a test in a mannér
which accounts for task difficulty, tasks not attempted,
guesses and random errors. IRT calculates an estimate of
each task's difficulty and an estimate of an individual's
ability using the same numerical scale (commonly a scale
ranging from 0 to 500).
Once IRT difficulty scores for the tasks had been
calculated, the ranges for each level were determined.
Tasks were ordered according to their difficulty score and
the level for which each task was initially designed was
compared with the groupings which emerged from the
difficulty scores. A cluster analysis program was also run
to group the tasks by statistical similarity. The task groups
(or clusters) derived from this analysis matched those from
the theory driven examination. The ranges for each level
were then determined on the basis of the scores of the
easiest task at that level and the most difficult task at that
same level. This left small uncovered areas which were
divided at even numbers. The reading continuum was
divided into the following levels:
-
Level 1:
Under 160
Level 2:
160-204
205-244
Level 3:
Level 4:
245 and over
Having determined the ranges for each level, the
determination of an individual's level was relatively easy.
The individual's score is the difficulty of the most difficult
task that the individual has an 80% chance o_ f answering
correctly. Any individual whose score is less than 160 is
at reading level 1, any individual whose score is over 160
but less than 205 is at reading level 2, and so on.
Because an individual's score is based on the total
pa tt ern of answers, not just those of a particular level, it is
possible that some level 2 individuals will answer level 3
items, but they will not do so consistently. Thus, an
individual's level is the highest level at which he/she can
perform consistently.
Other components of literacy
While literacy is usually defined as composed of
reading, writing, and numeracy skills, as in the UNESCO
definition, literacy is often identified primarily with reading.
Indeed, the above discussion focussed on reading.
54
However brief and tentative the literature on adult reading
is, that on adult numeracy and writing is almost entirely
absent. Studies that discussed in detail these aspects of
literacy could not be found. Some studies suggest that the
cognitions used in school arithmetic are different from
those in everyday numeracy (Lave, 1988). Unfortunately,
these studies do not reveal much about the everyday
numerical calculations they investigate. In any case, they
tend to emphasize the task-specific properties of what they
do study. As the goal of LSUDA was to provide a
generalizable measure of Canadians' ability to apply
arithmetic skills in the context of commonly encountered
documents, past studies offered only indirect guidance.
There was even less to direct the measurement of
writing. The few studies of non-school writing (Odell &
Goswami, 1985) concerned mostly business writing, which
is not applicable to all adults. As the emphasis of LSUDA
was on functional writing, two tasks were included that
reflect typical situations in which writing would be required.
In both cases, respondents were asked to write text
conforming to very specific content requirements. Even
though the writing measure is considerably more tentative
than the reading and numeracy measures, it is believed to
be an important step -- even though a somewhat uncertain
and early one -- toward an understanding of everyday
writing skills.
Adult Literacy in Canada:
Results of a National Study
Pa rt II
1. An International Review of the
Concepts, Definitions and
Measurement Approaches
Underlying Literacy Statistics
By
Alvin Satin
Chief, Special Survey Methods
Statistics Canada
How does Canada situate itself internationally on the
literacy front? The answer to this question has important
implications for how well Canada can adapt to the world of
the future -- a world generally perceived to be undergoing
rapidly increasing levels of competition where only a well
trained and adaptable work force can sustain Canada's
standard of living. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to
compare the situation in Canada with other countries, due
to the markedly different ways statistics on illiteracy are
compiled.
Concepts of literacy ran a from_that of the most basic
Ievel11unctional literacy which represents â more
advanced level of proficiency. - Almost all countries which
measure literacy do so at a basic level. Over 110
countries have, to date, accepted in principle the definition
of literacy established by UNESCO (1978):
"a person is literate who can with understanding both
read and write a short simple statement on his
everyday life".
These countries do, however, vary markedly in the
extent to which essential features of this definition have
been captured in their measurement approaches, survey
instruments and operational procedures.
The data source underpinning statistics on literacy for
almost all countries which report them is the Census of
Population. This requires that, at most, one or two direct
questions be devoted to the issue of literacy, or that
estimates be based upon proxy measures associated with
educational attainment.
The pattern most prevalent among developed
countries is the use of educational attainment as a proxy
for measuring the extent of illiteracy. An age restriction
(ranging from 5 years of age and older to 18 years of age
and older) is either directly embedded in the census
questions or applied at the tabulation stage. More
importantly, some countries count as illiterate only those
persons with no schooling whatsoever while in others
illiterates are those below a cut-off. The broad diversity in
educational systems (and sometimes within a country
when grade levels are not standard across school
jurisdictions) complicate comparisons that can be made
between countries. Whatever cut-off point is used, there is
definitely a degree of arbitrary choice in setting it. The
use of a grade level criterion does not allow for persons
who may have achieved the equivalent educational level
through self-education and life experience. Also some
persons who have achieved such a minimum grade level
will have lost their ability to read and write through lack of
opportunities for continuing practice. It should be
recognized as well that because school attendance is often
compulsory, educational attainment may be somewhat
overstated in the census of some countries.
In developing countries, household respondents are
often asked directly whether they (and others in the
household) can read and write. In some cases, only
reading skills are addressed and, on occasion, reading
skills are covered separately from reading and writing
skills. Another approach typically used is an enumerator
assessment as to whether respondents can read and write,
often based upon a simple test. In practice. however, it is
likely that enumerators tend to accept the respondent's
word without applying a consistent means of verification.
The examples which follow show how the operational
instructions for making such a determination can vary
among countries following this type of approach:
India (1981):
A person who can both read and write with
understanding in any language is to be taken as literate. If
there is any doubt, the test that may be applied for reading
is his/her ability to read any portion of the enumerator's
instruction booklet (provided the person is familiar with the
language used in the booklet); similarly, for writing, he/she
should be able to write a simple letter. If a person claims
to be literate in some other language unfamiliar to the
enumerator, the respondent's word is taken to be correct.
Other members of the household may also be able to
indicate whether the person is literate or not. All children 4
years of age or less are treated as illiterate.
Malaysia (1980):
Persons who have never attended school or only
primary school are asked whether they can read a
newspaper or a letter and whether they can write a simple
letter. These questions are to be asked only in the case of
doubt.
Spain (1979):
A person is considered to be literate if he/she can
write with understanding a brief and simple summary of
events in their daily life. A person is deemed to be
illiterate if he/she can read and write only a few numbers,
his/her name or a few phrases by memory.
Portugal (1981):
A person is considered to be literate if he/she can
read and write, even with difficulty, and is therefore able to
read a paper or write a sentence.
Mexico (1980):
A person is literate if he/she can read and write a
simple message or note. Those who are classified as
literate are asked about the type of material they read.
Benin (1978):
Persons who have not attended school are asked
whether they can read and write in a national language.
In many situations, the manner of making a
determination of literacy is covered during the interview
training by way of examples cast within particular contexts.
Countries such as the Soviet Union and some Eastern
European countries integrate the proxy and direct question
approaches to literacy measurement by using a separate
category for their question on educational attainment. A
person is counted as illiterate if he/she has had no
elementary schooling and cannot read from a simple text
provided by the interviewer.
The interpretation of statistics on literacy and the
ability to reconcile international figures is affected by the
uneven levels of data quality associated with operational
instructions. The clarity of operational instructions and
compliance with them a ffects the extent of misunderstanding and misclassification which can result. The
instructions are, as well, generally prone to a large degree
of subjectivity in their application. This can be exacerbated depending on the extent to which proxy reporting is
allowed on behalf of individuals within households. As
well, the social undesirability of being considered illiterate
adds to the problem of misclassification.
58
Another factor which makes international statistics on
literacy difficult to reconcile is the language referred to in
addressing the ability of the respondents to read and write.
In many cases, it is the language of choice of the
respondent, in others the official languages of the country,
while in others it is the language used by significant
groups in the population. In Chad, for example, literacy is
defined as the ability to read and write in French or Arabic,
in Korea as the ability to read and write Korean, while in
Algeria as the ability to read and write fluently in Arabic or
French.
Apart from the varied approaches for measuring the
extent of illiteracy,
factor which affects the
interpretation of these statistics is census coverage. Some
countries base their census on their de jure population
while others on their de facto population. It should also be
recognized that countries exclude different segments of
their population generally for operational reasons. Peru,
for example, excludes its Indian jungle population; Cuba,
those who are disabled.
Turning now to the more complex issue of functional
literacy, the 1978 UNESCO Revised Recommendation
concerning the International Standardization of Educational
Statistics provided the following definition:
"A person is functionally literate who can engage in all
those activities in which literacy is required for
effective functioning of his/her group and community
and also for enabling him/her to continue to use
reading, writing and calculation for his/her own and the
community's development".
The need to recognize that literacy is really a
continuum becomes increasingly apparent as one attempts
to measure more edvancéd ress of proficiency as implied
in the U1VESC{0 fRet,unrmerrziation. Although it would be
desirable to categorize persons as being functionally
literate or illiterate, to do so would misrepresent a rather
complex level of functioning. It is now generally
recognized that literacy is a set of skills that people have
to varying degrees, and that it is intimately connected to
the printed materials commonly encountered in a society
at a particular time.
In order to shed light on the extent of illiteracy in the
world and to make international comparisons more meaningful, a commonly accepted standard definition needs to
be applied in a more systematic way. Of the methods
currently employed in the census, the use of a grade level
cut-off such as 0-4 years of schooling provides for a more
consistent indicator of basic illiteracy than the use of one
or two direct questions. What is needed, of course, is the
application of a single grade level cut-off to establish rates
of illiteracy on a more consistent basis. The validity of
such an indicator is directly tied to the assumption that the
basic reading and writing skills inherent in the UNESCO
definition have been imparted to persons who have
successfully completed such a grade level.
In light of the diversity in the structure of educational
systems, particularly beyond the elementary level, and
also because notions of functional literacy are so intimately
connected to the type and range of printed materials
commonly encountered in a culture, educational
attainment is less useful as a proxy indicator for literacy
proficiency beyond the basic level. Direct measurement
studies, through a series of objective tests reflecting the
literacy requirements of a society in the context of a
household survey, is a relatively new and promising
avenue for improving the quality and usefulness of
statistics on literacy, particularly those which apply to
functional literacy.
While it is clear that international comparisons are
difficult to make, do the statistics from the LSUDA study
suggest that the literacy problem in Canada is more or
less acute than that in other countries?
It is important to recognize that the literacy demands
are particularly high in countries like Canada where the
nature and use of printed materials are both complex and
pervasive. As a result, success on the literacy front means
more than functioning at a most basic level, which is what
most countries now report. Since industrialized countries
like Canada far surpass most nations of the world on the
basis of educational attainment, it is safe to assume that it
does so as well in the case of literacy. It is very difficult
however, to situate Canada among the better educated
industrialized countries in a precise statistical manner.
Direct measurement studies such as the LSUDA are
required to be carried out in other countries on which to
base such comparisons.
To date, Australia, Kenya, the USA, Zimbabwe and
most recently Canada have carried out direct measuremen studies in a household sûrvey context to determine
of persons to use reading, writing and numeracy
the
to function effectively in their everyday lives. These
surveys have provided a unique opportunity to integrate
socio-demographic and background information with a
series of functional literacy tasks. These kinds of studies
set the stage for a better understanding of the distribution
of literacy skills within and between countries.
59
2. Literacy and International
Competitiveness: The
Relevance of Canada's Survey
By
Donald Hirsch
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation
OECD
Is illiteracy a serious threat to economic competitiveness? This is a question that would not have been
asked 20 years ago in relation to the advanced, industrialized countries. Universal education, it was assumed,
meant that more or less everybody could read and write;
illiteracy was not an issue except in relation to pockets of
extreme deprivation, like America's Appalachia, which did
not have a vital influence on their country's overall
economic health.
Yet the OECD -- the organisation that oversees the
economic interests of the world's richest countries -- has
just published a major report linking adult literacy and
economic performance'. Its appearance reflects growing
concern about the literacy levels of workers, among
employers, governments and others in many OECD
countries. This concern is not always backed up by a
sound understanding of the nature of workers' literacy
problems, or of the effect on the firms' performance.
Canada's recent survey has helped improve this
understanding.
How often do you hear an employer moaning that
"many of the people coming out of high school these days
can't read or write"? Implicit in this assertion is the idea
that there has been a marked fall in educational
performance. In fact, there is no firm evidence to suggest
that this is true, and the OECD's work has concentrated
rather on identifying the rising educational requirements of
the workforce. Quite simply, more workers are being
asked to use literacy skills in the workplace, and to use
them in more sophisticated ways than they did in the past.
Set against these higher requirements, literacy standards
are often indeed wanting.
Detailed international studies of modern manufacturing
and se rv ice industries have demonstrated how this
problem has come about. New technologies should
potentially lead to substantial increases in productivity.
But to work properly, these technologies require new kinds
of workers. As more and more routine tasks become
automated, workers are needed who can perform a variety
of tasks, take initiative and sort things out when they go
wrong. Have you ever stood in a supermarket line
watching a cashier with an automatic price-reading gadget
taking more time than if she had an old-fashioned cash
register because she has to ring for a supervisor every
time there is some irregularity? The fact is that an
education system that has traditionally taught people to
follow instructions and perform routine tasks has not kept
pace with technological change that most of all requires
workers who can think.
As many of the exercises tested for the Canadian
literacy survey illustrate, the higher level literacy skills
needed in many jobs require far more creative thoughtprocesses than simply the deciphering of written words or
the performance of straightforward mathematical operations. Canadians who attained "level 4" successfully
performed exercises requiring them to interpret texts, and
often to reformulate a question in a more familiar form. A
worker attempting to repair a machine with the help of a
manual and his experience of a similar machine faces
similar challenges. Frequently, the manual will not give a
precise step-by-step process that can be followed in every
case. The worker needs to be able to read, understand
and interpret the information, and be able to relate it to his
existing knowledge.
This question of confronting the unfamiliar is central -both to the skills of the modern worker and to our
understanding of literacy. Of the extremely limited survey
work that has been done in other countries on adult
functional literacy, the 1985 National Assessment of
Educational Progress in the United States came closest to
the Canadian survey in looking at specific competencies at
a variety of levels. But it did not try to classify the
population into distinct bands according to their
achievement. The Canadian attempt to do so -- though
inevitably somewhat crude -- is an important contribution
to the way literacy might be seen internationally. In a
nutshell, functional literacy is becoming an issue not just
for the (perhaps) one or two per cent of people who cannot
read at all or even the 10-20% with severe reading
difficulties, but for possibly a third of all adults who are
unable to use reading materials in unfamiliar or complex
situations.
The exact numbers do not matter. What is important
is that in Canada -- and in all probability in other
industrialized countries -- a substantial proportion of the
adult population, and not just a marginalized group of
generally deprived people, could benefit from improved
literacy skills. This produces two conclusions. First, basic
skills teaching needs to be pitched at a much wider range
of adults. Second, for it to be e ff ective it needs wherever
possible to be set in the context of people's everyday lives
at work and in the community, rather than being removed
to a school classroom. In other words, illiteracy cannot
simply be solved by sending a few undereducated adults
back to school.
' Laureen Benton and Thierry Noyelle. The Literate Worker.
Adult literacy and Economic Performance in industrialized
Nations, OECD, Paris, 1991.
3. Implications for Adult
Education
By
Ian Morrison
Executive Director
The Canadian Association for Adult Education
In the world of the 1990's, the ability to communicate
effectively through symbols has gained importance far
greater than ever before. For employees, it is an essential
prerequisite for rewarding economic participation; for
parents, it is a tool to encourage effective growth and
development for their children; for citizens, it is a means to
influence the affairs of their communities and to share their
cultural roots. Awareness of these communication needs
is greater now than ever before in Canada.
The name our language gives to this capacity is
"literacy". In many ways, it is a dysfunctional term. It
implies, in popular usage, a qualitative distinction between
"literacy" and "illiteracy", as if it were possible to divide
people into two distinct categories -- those who have
reading and writing skills and those who do not. We all
know that our fellows possess a wide variety of reading
and writing skills, and that these change over time owing
to such factors as educational participation, practice,
memory and motivation. The apparent "yes/no" choice
between literacy and illiteracy is in fact an infinite variety of
skills and knowledge.
In designing its Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily
Activities, Statistics Canada has performed a useful service
by recognizing and dealing with this limitation on the
concept of "literacy". Its recent survey has enabled, for
the first time, an analysis of the actual reading, writing and
computational skills of the adult population of Canada. For
ease of description these can be categorized into levels,
but what is being collated into these levels is a cluster
based upon a series of individual measurements of
specific skills.
This survey has influenced public consciousness and
public policy more than any previous educational
measurement by Statistics Canada. Its results are quoted
in labour, management, voluntary sector and government
circles -- and for good reason. It has supplied, for the first
time in Canada, or elsewhere for that matter, an objective
measure of the symbolic communication capacity of our
adult population. It is a valuable snapshot, and a basis on
which to build future measures.
Prior to release of the results of this survey, many
educational policy decisions affecting educationally disadvantaged adults were based upon hunches or informed
speculation. Such rough tools, which this survey • has cast
into sceptical relief, include various habits of drawing
inferences about a person's educational capacity from his
or her educational attainment. For example, a rule of
thumb used by Frontier College in the 1960's was that the
average communication capacity of an adult could be
guessed by multiplying his or her educational attainment
by age when leaving school expressed as a fraction of
current age.
The survey instruments can be adapted by others to
measure specific groups of adults and to compare them to
a statistically reliable Canadian average. This also applies,
respecting limits imposed by cultural differences, to other
English- and French-speaking countries. The Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development, impressed
with the definition and methodology of the Canadian
survey, is planning to recommend this concept as part of
its future educational research and cooperation with other
OECD member countries.
Some political leaders in Canada, concerned with
verifying the extent to which young people are learning
basic symbolic communication and computational skills in
primary and secondary schools, have recently drawn from
American policy discussion the idea of testing basic skills
at intervals throughout compulsory education. They would
do well to examine the methodology of this survey as a
cost-effective educational policy evaluation instrument.
The survey's database is extremely rich from a
research point of view. Early governmental statements on
the survey results barely scraped the surface of available
information. While, for example, the reading skills of
English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians were
compared in initial releases, their relative arithmetic
computation capacity was not released. Jurisdictional
variations remain to be fully documented. Because the
database is fully integrated into the baseline information of
the Labour Force Survey, a range of economically relevant
information awaits analysis by the research community.
What are the implications of this newly available
information on the symbolic communication capacity of the
adult population for Canada's diverse adult education
community?
The survey establishes beyond reasonable doubt that
very substantial numbers of adults have great difficulty
functioning effectively in situations which require reading,
writing and arithmetical skills. These people are not being
reached effectively by educational outreach. For the
greater economic, social and societal good, policy makers
will be pressed to give new consideration to the delivery of
adult education services in this country. Techniques to
reach the educationally disadvantaged, more highly
developed in northern Europe than in North America, will
likely receive fresh scrutiny.
Most important, the survey has made visible a huge
educational problem, and indicts our country's presumed
educational achievements. Public expectations, aroused
by the contradiction between our rhetoric and the results,
will raise educational policy questions higher on the
political agenda, and presumably on the constitutional
agenda, in the 1990's.
Pressure upon the compulsory educational delivery
systems to assure that their students learn basic symbolic
communication skills may increase as a result of the
survey's findings, and well it should.
The use of this survey's findings is a very good
example of the power of information to inform decisionmaking. Interested observers will maintain a close watch
on the results.
64
4. Literacy and Health in Canada:
Contribution of the LSUDA
Survey
By
Irving Rootman, Ph.D.
Director, Centre for Health Promotion
University of Toronto
Literacy and health in Canada
Literacy is increasingly being recognized by those
working in the field of health in Canada as a critical
determinant of health. Both reflecting and contributing to
this recognition is a project initiated by the Ontario Public
Health Association in 1988. The purpose of the first phase
of the project, which was completed in 1989, was to
document the relationship between literacy and health. It
explored three central questions: "What is the relationship
between literacy and health?"; "What is being done to
ensure that people who do not read, write or use numbers
will live healthier and safer lives?"; and "What should be
done in the future to 'make the world healthier and safer
for people who can't read?" (OPHA, 1985).
From June to September 1988 information to answer
these questions was collected from a number of sources,
including community organizations, existing literature, case
studies and key informants. This was followed by regional
workshops, a provincial consultation and a strategy
meeting to synthesize all of the information gathered. The
conclusions were then published in a report released in
1989 (OPHA. 1989).
With regard to the relationship between literacy and
health, the report concluded that "virtually all healthrelated aspects of people with limited literacy skills are
worse than for others" (OPHA, 1989). The report also
concluded that literacy has both a direct and indirect
impact on health. It directly contributes to such problems
as incorrect use of medications, not following medical
directions, error in administration of infant formula and
safety risks. Indirectly, "illiteracy leads to poor lifestyle
practices, stress, unhealthy living and working conditions,
and results in lack of access to health information and to
inappropriate use of medical and health service" (OPHA,
1989). According to the authors of the report "it also
frequently results in unemployment and in poverty"
(OPHA. 1989), all of which have major detrimental impacts
on health, as outlined in the report. They in fact suggest
that the major impact of illiteracy on health is indirect
rather than direct.
With regard to what is being done to ensure that
people who have difficulties with reading, writing and using
numbers will live healthier and safer lives, the report
concluded that although there is some awareness of the
issue among people in the public health and literacy fields
in Canada, and there are some initiatives in place, there is
much more that needs to be done.
They suggest that there is a need for Provincial and
Federal Government policy, for a range of activities and
commitments by organizations to ensure equitable access
to information and for a body to ensure coordination.
Among other things, they recommend that governments:
improve the educational system for young people; develop
an adult education and training system; create policy and
funding commitments to ensure adults have access to a
variety of literacy and learning opportunities in their home
communities; support public participation in the health care
system; strengthen community health services; develop
and coordinate public health policies in a variety of
sectors; ensure information and materials provided by the
government are written in plain language; provide incentives to organizations that attempt to make information
more accessible to people with low literacy skills;
encourage and fund projects aimed at increasing
accessibility of information; and ensure attention be paid to
literacy when health promotion strategies are developed.
According to the report, organizations involved in
health-related matters should: analyze the distribution of
the information which they disseminate; develop policies
to ensure improved access to health information; involve
consumers in the process of reviewing and developing
information; ensure adaptation of information to the cultural
backgrounds of those who are to receive it; inform the
broader community of the nature of the relationship
between literacy and health; and "encourage and promote
governmental and organizational commitment to achieving
literacy and health for all, equitable access to information
and creating environments which promote health and
safety" (OPHA, 1989)
Finally, the report recommends giving an organization
the mandate to stimulate and coordinate policy and action
in relation to literacy and health. Such a coordinating
body would: disseminate the work done in phase I of the
project; stimulate commitment of governments, organizations and individuals to change; develop and deliver
training; consult and advise community groups and service
providers on literacy issues and related matters; make
linkages with organizations and activities; encourage
research and demonstration projects by supplying
communities with resources and expertise; and, encourage
and facilitate mechanisms for joint actions.
The project is currently in a second phase which is
attempting to implement these recommendations focusing
particularly on groups such as Natives, franco-Ontarians,
people with disabilities, senior citizens and immigrants who
have unique concerns about literacy and health.
test causes of phenomena, they can at least give some
useful hints. For example, the analysis in this report
suggests that the age when one of Canada's official
languages was learned may affect the acquisition of
literacy skills. Such hints can be very helpful indeed,
especially if they are confirmed in other studies.
Contribution of LSUDA Survey
In addition, the survey identifies some opportunities
for intervention that may be helpful to health workers. For
example, the finding that immigrants at low literacy levels
are more dissatisfied with their skills than people born in
Canada suggests that immigrants may be especially
receptive to efforts to improve literacy skills in general and
health literacy skills in particular. Alternatively, more and
different kinds of efforts may be required to reach the
Canadian-born population with low literacy levels.
Given this background, what contribution, if any, can
the Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities make
to the attempt to improve health through literacy in
Canada?
There are in fact several ways in which the survey can
make a contribution.
First, and perhaps most obvious, the survey provides
people working in the health field with more meaningful
and reliable estimates of the extent of illiteracy in
Canada. The OPHA project relied on the only estimates
available in 1987, those provided by the Southam Literacy
Survey (Creative Research Group, 1987).
The survey also provides health workers with reliable
information on the distribution of illiteracy in the
population of Canada. The Southarn survey was not able to
provide such information because of the small sample size
and the manner in which the sample was generated. This
information should be extremely useful in helping to target
initiatives in literacy in health. On the other hand, it should
be recognized that the LSUDA Survey did not cover some
of the key groups, such as Natives and older adults, which
the OPHA project feels need special attention.
Nevertheless, thesurveydoesprovidea
methodology which might in fact be used or adapted to
provide useful information about the extent of illiteracy in
those special groups.
However, even if such studies are not carried out,
there are some data in the survey which could be useful
to people working in the field of literacy and health in
Canada. For example, the survey contains questions on
eye visual trouble and hearing problems, as well as
speech, learning or other disabilities. In addition, a number
of the items used to measure literacy have direct
application to health concerns (for example, ability to read
a medicine label).
The survey also provides some useful information on
the determinants of illiteracy which may be helpful to
those concerned about health and literacy issues. Although
a survey such as this can never definitively identify and
66
The survey is also helpful in identifying types of
training programs that may be well received. For
example, it is useful for health workers to know that thirtyseven percent of respondents with self-identified
inadequacies reported that a "program that teaches you to
read instructions such as on medicine bottles or packaged
goods" would help them in their daily activities. Similarly,
the finding that almost half of the respondents preferred a
teacher from a local school to provide literacy training
might suggest the need for health workers in the literacy
area to collaborate with teachers in delivering programs.
Finally, the survey may be helpful in stimulating
action on literacy issues in Canada. It is clear that literacy
and health is only part of the picture and that health
workers are only some of the players. If the problem of
literacy is going to be resolved, it is essential that we all
work together. Hopefully, this survey will contribute to our
doing so. At the very least, it should be able to raise the
level of awareness of people working in the health area
and others in Canada regarding the issue and the need for
common action. I also hope that this paper will raise the
level of awareness of people working outside the traditional
health field regarding concerns and activities in the health
field related to literacy and thereby stimulate you to join
hands with us in achieving health for all Canadians through
improved literacy.
References
The Creative Research Group. (1987). Literacy in Canada:
A research report. Ottawa: Southam News Inc.
Ontario Public Health Association. (1989). The Literacy and
Health Project: Phase I, Toronto: Ontario Public Health
Association.
There are many reasons why older Canadians have
lower levels of literacy. The present older generation was
born between 1920 and 1935, and as a result many had
their schooling interrupted by the Great Depression and
World War II. Additionally, the many immigrants who
came to Canada did not have available to them the range
of language programs and assistance now provided.
5. Literacy and Old Age in
Canada: The Results of the
LSUDA Survey
By
David P. Ross, Ph.D
Social Economic Consultant
Ottawa
Literacy and old age in Canada
Since literacy is widely acknowledged as being an
important ingredient in the quality of life people enjoy, the
survey's results are alarming. They show that two-thirds
(65%) of Canada's elderly, representing around 2,000,000
people, experience some degree of difficulty with printed
material ("older" Canadians are those aged 55-69 years as
the survey excluded Canadians over 70 years). This low
level of functional literacy will pose a major problem in
years to come as this cohort grows older. The extensive
lack of literacy found among older Canadians is far greater
than for Canadians of younger ages, as table 1 testifies.
Table
1
The reading levels of various Canadian age groups
Reading level
Age
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-69
Level 1Level 2
2%
3%
6%
15%
5%
6%
15%
21%
Level 3Level 4
17%
19%
28%
29%
76%
71%
51%
35%
Source: Statistics Canada, Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily
Note:
Activities. Levels 1 to 4 are associated with increasing
reading abilities.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of
Canada's official languages.
The reading difficulties found among the elderly is
cause for great concern. However, looking ahead, the fact
that younger generations exhibit higher levels of literacy
means our future older generations are less likely to be
exposed to the problems associated with an inability to
read to the same extent today's older generation is.
Consequently, barring remarkable advances in literacy
demands and standards in the years ahead, the literacy
problems of future generations of older Canadians should
be partially self-correcting. But, even among present 2534 year old, one quarter have difficulty reading. This stillvery-high share represents the floor level of literacy for
future older Canadians if no action is taken to improve
literacy at all age levels.
The period prior to the 1950s also represented a less
diversified and complex economy that placed an emphasis
on agricultural and manual labour that demanded few
reading skills. It was easier in previous times to find a job
and make a living without being able to read. Also, the
requirements of the family farm brought about seasonal
demands for child labour which in turn interrupted
schooling.
The simple passage of time also erodes literacy skills.
Those not required to use their reading skills, particularly
at work, will find a natural erosion taking place from the
day they leave school. Moreover, as technological
change, advances in knowledge, complicated hierarchical
work structures, and urbanization have led to a more
sophisticated and complex way of life, the standards, or
norms of literacy have increased. A basic level of literacy
in 1940 no longer qualifies as basic in 1990. This trend
will continue, and probably even quicken, so it is
necessary to recognize that the assessment and promotion
of literacy will be measured against dynamic, and not
static benchmarks. What is passable today may not be
passable tomorrow; consequently, people will experience
measured literacy deficits as they age, unless conscious
efforts are made to continually upgrade literacy.
Implications
What are the main consequences of the poor level of
functional literacy found among older Canadians? It is
important as aging people confront conditions of
deteriorating health that they have the ability to read
material informing them of healthier practices. Never
before in history has so much material on preventive
health care been available to a population. Yet only those
who can read and comprehend, and have confidence in
the printed word, will benefit from this expanding health
knowledge. Curative and acute health care also require
literacy, such as being able to find proper medical
services, reading prescriptions and other medical
instructions, understanding what is available under
provincial health care schemes, reading contracts and
forms for extended health care services and so on.
Expensive institutional care is the most likely alternative
available for people unable to care for themselves.
In the face of retirement, a person's financial situation
changes requiring many decisions to be taken, such as:
application for government Old Age Security benefits and
possibly the Guaranteed Supplement; election or not of
early Canada/Quebec Pension Plan Benefits; election of
provisions under applicable private pension schemes;
conversion of any RRSPs; and the important tax
implications of the decision taken. Making and
understanding these financial decisions is made much
easier if a person can read documents and understand
what they sign.
Retired people will be faced with more leisure time.
The enjoyment of filling these longer leisure hours will be
greatly enhanced if a person is literate. Enjoying
newspapers and the many varied and specialized
magazines available today, attending adult courses,
following hobbies, understanding travel literature all require
functional literacy. Even T.V. watchers will benefit from
being able to read the T.V. listings. As technology
advances, many leisure and household goods become
more complicated to set-up and operate. Automobiles,
telephones, home sound systems, security systems, bank
card machines, micro-wave ovens, video-recorders and
cameras are only a few of the items that can be more
easily operated and fully enjoyed after a careful reading of
manuals.
As the Canadian population ages, it is estimated that
the over-65 group will comprise over one-quarter of the
electorate in 30 years time (as opposed to 16% today).
The political force of this bloc of voters will be significant.
It will be even more necessary than today to ensure that
these electors are able to follow the issues, and do not
effectively disenfranchise themselves due to the inability to
read. It is not only important to the individuals in their role
as citizens, it is also important to society since good public
policy can only be achieved through the participation of an
informed electorate. And it is most likely that public
choice decisions will be become more, and not less,
sophisticated in the future as nations become more highly
integrated and inter-dependent.
These are only some of the implications of literacy for
the elderly. Throughout their lifetimes, people unable to
read develop informal supports to assist them in dealing
with this inability. However, aging represents a time of
change. Support once provided by spouses, children,
relatives, friends and neighbours slowly disappears.
Children grow up and move away, elderly people retire to
different neighbourhoods, and relatives, friends and
spouses pass away. As this happens, older people may
find it increasingly difficult to replace these supports
except through institutional and professional home care.
68
Strategy for increasing literacy
What can be done to improve the literacy levels of
older Canadians? One Voice-The Canadian Seniors
Network, is a group of elderly Canadians who reacted
quickly to the results of the LSUDA survey. Their first
action was to organize a national conference in 1990 to
develop a strategy for dealing with the low level of literacy
found within their members. One of the main
recommendations of the conference was to establish a
Canadian Coalition for Older Adult Literacy consisting of
30 individuals drawn from various sectors of interest.
Following the conference, a Task Force was struck to
examine how this recommendation could be implemented,
and its subsequent report set the terms of reference and
schedule of work for the coalition.
Two guiding objectives were spelled out: i) "to raise
literacy levels among older Canadians, primarily by
increasing literacy training among seniors", and ii) "to
create a supportive system in our communities to sustain
seniors who, for whatever reason, are not literate." The
Task Force report, endorsed by One Voice, recommended
a three-year strategy for the Coalition. In the first year, the
Coalition is to be set up and a plan for literacy
programming developed. During year two, the program
delivery mechanisms and their promotion are to be
designed and established. In year three, with the
programs in place, an awareness campaign is to be
undertaken to promote the uptake of the literacy training
programs.
The results of the LSUDA survey conducted by
Statistics Canada awakened a large number of Canadians
to a pressing societal problem. Among seniors it provided
an impetus to reduce the remarkably low levels of literacy
found among them. What is particularly gratifying about
this response is that seniors themselves took the initiative
to design and implement activities to increase literacy
among their numbers. Although government funding will
be instrumental in supporting some of the initiatives, the
response is a tribute to the powerful role that volunteerism
plays in Canada.
Reference
One Voice,
Canadians
A
National Literacy Strategy for Older
6. Functional Illiteracy: Economic
Costs and Labour Market
Implications
By
Tim O'Neill
President
Atlantic Provinces Economic Council
and
Andrew Sharpe
Head of Research
Canadian Labour Market and Productivity Centre
Introduction
Illiteracy in Canada is not a problem confined to those
individuals who are virtually devoid of the most basic
capacity to read and write. This group constitutes less
than 10 percent of the total adult population. They might
be referred to as profoundly illiterate. However, there is an
additional 30 percent of Canadians who experience some
degree of difficulty in using their reading and writing skills
in the workplace and at home. A recent study by Statistics
Canada (1990) distinguishes two levels of difficulty -- a
limited ability to use printed material and an ability to use
only non-complex materials. Functional illiteracy has cost
implications for individuals, for their employers and for
society at large. Moreover, these costs appear to have
increased in the 1980s as the relative labour market
position of the functionally illiterate has deteriorated. It is
these economic and financial impacts of illiteracy on which
we focus in this article. There are many other dimensions
of the problem which are beyond the scope and expertise
of the authors.
Before dealing with specifics, it is important to note
initially that the goal of functional literacy in the workplace
-- the absence of difficulties in the on-the-job application of
reading and writing skills -- is a moving target because of
the changing nature of the skills required to function
effectively in the job market. The level of reading and
writing skills required for most occupations and tasks has
been increasing over the last 50 years and is likely to
continue to do so.
Mikulecky (1990) has argued, for example, that
whereas a grade four level of education was required for
entrance into the military during World War II, entry now
requires a high school diploma or its equivalent. He also
contends that about 90 percent of jobs require two to three
hours of reading on a daily basis and that about 70 percent
of that is at a grade 9-12 level of difficulty.
One consequence of functional literacy being a
moving target is that, as job skills become more
sophisticated and technically complex, the assessment of
success in achieving literacy targets becomes very
difficult. An objective appropriate 10-15 years ago may no
longer be acceptable. It also implies that the costs of not
increasing the proportion of the workforce with those skills
will rise over time.
Economic costs of illiteracy
The economic costs of functional illiteracy can be
divided into three groups - those experienced by the
individual, those faced by the firm, and those borne by
society. Since very little work has been done to provide a
quantitative estimate of these impacts, the primary focus is
on specifying the particular types of costs imposed by
illiteracy.
(i)
Costs to the individual
Individuals who are functionally illiterate experience a
variety of costs. Their income levels are below average,
both because the skill levels required for the jobs they fill
are below average and because the range of jobs open to
them is more narrow 1 . These factors also lead to above
average unemployment and reduced labour market
mobility (occupational and geographic) for those who are
functionally illiterate. These consequences of illiteracy are
examined in more detail later in this article.
In an economy in which the minimum literacy and
numeracy skills requirements have been increasing and
are expected to continue to do so, those who are
functionally illiterate will be less and less able to compete
effectively for jobs. As well, the combination of
increasingly information-intensive employment (especially
in the service sector) and greater technical sophistication
in the skills required, means that those with basic literacy
skills deficiencies will have a diminished capacity for initial
job training and, most critically, retraining. This dooms
them to fall farther behind in the competition for gainful
employment.
A study by Drouin (1990) notes that the pace of
technological change is drastically influencing the period
for which an individual's workplace skills are usable. It is
contended that the obsolescence of specialized skills
occurs within 3 to 5 years from attainment compared to a
7- 14 year span just 10 years ago. Technological change,
which is a challenge to most people in the workforce, can
be disastrous for those who are severely handicapped in
trying to upgrade and update their skills.
Before leaving the topic of costs to the individual, it
should be noted that there are also psychological impacts
borne by functionally illiterate people. The damage to selfimage and perceptions of capability to adapt to changing
job requirements can be substantial. Social problems are
also a potential outcome of this factor. These social and
psychological consequences can have negative economic
consequences for those individuals. These can show up in
absenteeism, poor work performance, and other facets of
weak job attachment.
(i)
Employees and employers are not the only losers
from illiteracy. Society at large suffers the effects as well.
The economic costs include forgone output due to lower
productivity in the workforce, higher prices for goods and
services as the result of increased production costs, and
higher levels of income transfers to those who are unemployed or underemployed because of skill deficiencies.
Difficulties with literacy and numeracy can also translate
into higher costs for training programs supported by the
public purse.
Costs to firms
The impact of functional illiteracy is not felt exclusively
by individuals. The firms which employ them also are
affected and some to a potentially very significant degree.
In fact, a study done three years ago by the Canadian
Business Task Force on Literacy (1988) estimated that the
annual cost to Canadian businesses from lost productivity
due to illiteracy was $4 billion. Even if the estimate is not
an accurate one, it provides an order-of-magnitude
estimate of consequences for employers of illiteracy in the
workplace 2 .
DesLauriers (1990), in a recent Conference Board of
Canada survey of Canadian businesses with 50 or more
employees, found that about 70 percent of their
respondents claimed to have experienced some problems
in their operations as a result of workplace illiteracy. The
areas of firm activity for which problems were most serious
were the acquisition of new or advanced skills, training in
general and the introduction of new technology.
The specific types of negative impacts that were
mentioned most frequently were productivity losses, errors
in inputs and processes, reduced product quality, and
problems in job reassignment. Other less frequently
mentioned difficulties included health and safety problems,
higher job turnover rates and absenteeism.
These impacts ultimately translate into higher
production costs for firms and reduced competitiveness.
The focus in the Conference Board survey was on current
and past difficulties. However, functional illiteracy, by
reducing the adaptability of firms to new technology and
production techniques, also diminishes the capacity for
productivity improvement in the future. In other words, not
only are current productivity levels lower than they
otherwise would be, but potential increases are also
dampened. This imposes a serious burden on firms which
have to function in an increasingly competitive and
technologically advanced international economy.
70
(iii) Costs to society
It is important to point out that the costs listed above
for each of the individual, employers, and society are not
all additive. For example, the higher production costs
incurred by firms may be passed on to consumers in
higher produce prices. That element of costs transferred
to buyers is not a burden for the firm. The portion of the
costs absorbed as lower returns to owners is, however, a
net cost to the firm.
The key point is that the economic and financial
consequences of inadequate literacy and numeracy skills
are shared widely in society. Whether or not the
appropriate figure is $4 billion annually, if 40 percent of the
adult population in Canada experiences at least some
degree of difficulty with job-related reading and writing
activities, the correct number is likely to be a significant
one. Since the costs are also distributed widely, there is
good reason for the private sector (business and labour)
and the public sector to contribute to solutions.
Who pays for solving the problem?
The issue of how the costs for solving literacy
problems are shared is not a straightforward one for
several reasons. Costs for firms and for society are not
experienced in a uniform manner across industry sectors
or over regions. Firms and industries face a different
degree of severity of the problem depending, in part, on
locale. Labour market conditions vary from one part of the
country to another. Firms with large pools of relatively
skilled workers to draw upon can selectively eliminate
those employees or potential employees who have
inadequate levels of literacy and numeracy. As well,
individual firms will vary as to the range and complexity of
skills required by their employees. These and other
factors will influence their willingness to contribute to the
solution of the literacy problem.
There is, in the economy, a spectrum of skills which
workers have and which firms and industries will require.
For example, technology and knowledge-intensive business service firms will draw extensively from the upper
end of the spectrum. They will hire individuals with a
significant level of formal training and with complex and
sophisticated skills. As long as there is a reasonable
supply of individuals with the skills in hand or with a
capacity to attain readily the job-specific ones required,
firms/industries hiring them will not feel the pressure to
contribute to skill enhancement programs other than those
of immediate relevance to their own workforce. If an
anticipated broad skills shortage were to emerge in the
labour market, this situation would certainly change.
Similarly, firms requiring low skills (for example, many
in the primary harvesting and processing sectors) will have
a limited incentive to contribute to solutions for functional
illiteracy. However, these firms also tend to operate in
highly competitive product markets. The pressure for
technological change in order to remain competitive is
ongoing. The introduction of new technology brings with it
a need for improved skills by employees who will operate
the new equipment. Hence, those firms will have to
consider skills enhancement for their workers or
replacement of some of them by others more qualified.
General labour market shortages will hamper the la tt er
approach.
In both of the above examples, the current cost to the
individual firm may be relatively low. Hence, even if they
perceive that problems occur because of functional
illiteracy among their employees (by no means a
necessary conclusion to be drawn) the cost imposed on
the firm may not be as significant as the expenditure on
literacy training required to solve the problem. This may
help explain why, among the firms surveyed by the
Conference Board of Canada, only about 25 percent have
a systematic human resource policy or program and fewer
still have programs specifically aimed at functional
illiteracy.
This also is an important part of the explanation for
why the firms or industries most actively involved in
programs of support for improving overall literacy are
those with a strong vested economic interest in reducing
illiteracy. Canada Post, the Canadian Booksellers
Association, and the Advertisers Association of Canada are
three of the most actively involved firms/organizations
nationally.
An exclusive focus on current relative costs and
benefits of investing in improved functional literacy carries
with it a danger of ignoring future labour requirements. If
the level of literacy required to function effectively in the
job market continues to rise, the projected shortage of
most types of skills will become a severe constraint on
virtually all industries' capacity to maintain and improve
their competitiveness. In other words, the future demand
for skills will involve a movement along the spectrum to
greater complexity and technical sophistication. If the
capacity to supply those needs is not improved now, the
future requirements will be increasingly difficult to meet for
all firms, irrespective of locale or current demand.
There is also a geographic dimension to this problem.
As the Statistics Canada survey showed, the incidence of
functional illiteracy was highest of all the regions of
Canada in the Atlantic Provinces. While in Canada as a
whole, 38 percent of the population had at least some
problems with functional literacy (including 7 percent with
essentially no ability to read and write) the comparable
figure for Atlantic Canada was 48 percent. Within the
region, the province of Newfoundland had a staggering 61
percent of its adult population in that category. In the
other three provinces the figure was about 43 percent.
These were the only provinces in which functional illiteracy
problems existed for more than 40 percent of the adult
population.
Although no simple cause-effect relationship can be
posited, it is hardly surprising that the Atlantic region has
the lowest levels of productivity in the country (about 20
percent lower than the national average), the slowest pace
of technological innovation, the highest unemployment
rates and the lowest average income levels. On the one
hand, higher than average functional illiteracy levels may
be primarily another symptom of the broad economic
problems of the region. The lack of development of the
region may, by encouraging the out-migration of the better
educated and more highly skilled, leave Atlantic Canada
with a smaller proportion of the labour force with skill
levels in the upper end of the spectrum. In short, higher
rates of illiteracy result from the absence of growth and
development levels comparable to national ones. On the
other hand, there are many who would argue that the lower
level of skills in the Atlantic Canadian labour force is itself
a factor in retarding economic development. It leaves a
workforce less capable of meeting existing skills
requirements and of adapting to changes in those
requirements. This weaker human capital resource base
makes the region a less a tt ractive one in which to invest or
expand. This in turn contributes to productivity gaps and
poorer economic pe rformance.
71
This does not imply that greater public and private
sector investment in education and training and,
specifically, in improving literacy skills will inevitably and
automatically transform a lagging economy into a leading
one. However, investment in human capital is an
important part of the solution to the economic problems of
Atlantic Canada (and of other parts of Canada). For the
expenditures on specific skills development to be more
effective, there must be an improvement in the capacity of
those needing those skills to attain them. In other words, a
significant improvement in literacy skills is a necessary
component of any overall training and skills upgrading
strategy.
The declining labour market position of the poorly
educated
Canadians without adequate literacy and numeracy
skills have always been disadvantaged in the labour
market. In the 1980s, however, their position deteriorated
even further. Opportunities to find stable, well paying
employment for the poorly educated became increasingly
scarce. The labour market appears to have been
increasingly segmented into good jobs and bad jobs.
This increasing marginalization of the poorly educated
was manifested in higher unemployment rates for this
group relative to the overall unemployment rate, lower
participation rates, and lower relative employment
incomes. This reflects relative supply and demand
conditions on the labour market, in particular the reduced
demand for the poorly educated because of structural
shifts in labour demand and increased skill requirements
for many jobs.
Industries and occupations which in the past have
employed large numbers of poorly educated workers in
most cases experienced little growth in employment, and
in some cases, significant declines in the 1980s.
Employment growth was concentrated in industries and
occupations where average levels of literacy are high. In
addition, within those industries which have traditionally
employed large numbers of the poorly educated, there has
been a shift in occupational mix to the detriment of the
poorly educated. Similarly, within occupations which in
the past may have required little formal education, the
poorly educated are finding themselves increasingly
disadvantaged as these occupations require increasing
literacy skills.
In order to track over time the relative labour market
performance of those with inadequate literacy skills, time
series data on literacy levels and labour market variables
are needed. Unfortunately, the results from Statistics
Canada's Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities
(LSUDA) 3 are available for only one year — 1989.
However, because of the strong correlation between formal
72
educational attainment and literacy, educational attainment
data, which are available as a time series, can serve as a
proxy for literacy and numeracy skills.
For example, 88 percent of those with no schooling or
only elementary education do not have the reading skills to
meet most everyday reading demands (levels 1, 2, and 3),
compared to only 31 percent of Canadians with higher
levels of educational attainment. Those with no schooling
or elementary education represent 55 percent of
Canadians who have difficulty dealing with printed
materials (level 1), yet comprise only 10 percent of the
Canadian population aged 16-69. This strong positive
relationship between formal educational attainment and
literacy levels is also found, although to a slightly lesser
degree, for numeracy levels 4
.
The incidence of illiteracy and innumeracy is thus much
higher among the poorly educated, particularly those with
less than 9 years of formal schooling. For this reason,
discussion will focus on the labour market experience of
those with less than 9 years of formal education and the
terms illiterate and poorly educated will be used
interchangeably, even though it is recognized that certain
individuals with little formal schooling may be able to cope
very well in terms of literacy skills.
The consequence of illiteracy for labour market
performance
Workers with poor literacy and numeracy skills tend to
have significantly higher unemployment rates, lower levels
of labour force participation, and lower employment
income than other workers. More importantly, the gap in
these variables between the poorly educated and the
overall population have been growing in the 1980s. The
poorly educated are also much less likely to move to
another province than those with more education.
In 1990 the unemployment rate of those with less than
nine years of formal education was 12.5 percent,
compared to the overall unemployment rate of 8.1 percent,
indicating that the unemployment rate of the poorly
educated was over one and one half times (1.54) the
overall rates. In 1981 the unemployment rate of the poorly
educated was only 1.21 times that of the overall rate. The
1980s thus saw a marked increase in the relative
unemployment rate of the poorly educated. The poorly
educated are experiencing greater difficulty in finding
employment relative to those with stronger educational
backgrounds, a trend which was not occurring in the latter
half of the 1970s (chart 1)6. This overall trend has affected
both sexes, all major age groups, and all provinces (table
1). The largest relative deteriorations in unemployment
rates were for poorly educated females, persons under 45,
and residents of Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Alberta.
Chart 1
The relative unemployment rate of the poorly educated
(Unemployment rate of those with less than 9 years of schooling as a proportion of overall rate)
160
160
150
150
140
140
130
130
120
120
1TIIllIII11III1I
110
1975
1978
1981
1984
1987
110
1990
Source: Labour Force Survey, Statistics Canada.
Table
1
Labour market pe rformance of the poorly educated by gender, age group and province
Unemployment rate
for those with <9 years
educational attainment
Percent
Participation rate
for those with <9 years of
educational attainment
As a percentage
of the overall
rate for each
group or province
Percent
As a percentage
of the overall
rate for each
group or province
1981
1990
1981
1990
1981
1990
1981
1990
9.1
8.8
9.9
12.5
12.2
13.0
121.3
125.7
119.3
154.3
150.6
160.5
44.1
61.3
26.7
35.5
48.1
23.7
68.1
78.2
51.6
53.0
63.4
40.6
15-24
25-44
45 + over
22.1
9.9
6.5
24.8
15.4
9.2
167.4
159.7
147.7
193.8
200.0
161.4
48.7
69.2
35.0
45.0
67.2
27.6
71.8
86.2
75.1
65.3
78.3
60.9
Atlantic
Newfoundland
P.E.I.
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
Quebec
Ontario
Prairies
Manitoba
Saskatchewan
Alberta
British Columbia
15.3
18.5
-14.0
15.0
11.3
7.1
5.1
7.0
-4.4
8.5
23.5
28.4
-16.2
20.7
14.8
8.3
9.9
9.4
9.6
10.7
11.4
133.0
133.1
-138.6
130.4
109.7
107.6
113.3
118.6
-115.8
126.9
183.6
166.1
-154.2
171.0
146.5
131.7
139.4
130.6
137.1
152.9
137.3
37.8
35.8
44.4
38.1
37.8
42.7
48.4
44.9
44.2
41.0
48.0
39.5
31.4
30.6
40.4
30.5
31.0
34.7
37.6
36.4
35.5
34.6
38.0
35.4
67.5
68.1
75.6
66.5
67.3
69.5
71.6
65.5
68.2
64.6
66.4
60.7
52.2
54.6
61.2
49.1
51.8
54.0
54.2
52.1
52.5
51.8
52.7
53.6
Total
Males
Females
Source: Labour Force Annual Averages, 1981-88, cat. 71-529, March 1989, Statistics Canada and Labour Force Annual Averages, 1990, cat.
71-220, February 1991.
73
The poorly educated participate in the labour force
considerably less than the overall population. In 1990,
their participation rate was 35.5 percent, compared to 67.0
percent for the total source population. In other words, the
participation rate of those with less than 9 years of
schooling was only 53.0 percent that of the overall
population. This again reflects the limited employment
opportunities available to the poorly educated because of
their lack of skills. There was a significant decrease in the
participation rate of the poorly educated in the 1980s, from
44.1 percent in 1981 to 35.5 percent in 1990. When
combined with the increase in the overall participation rate,
it has lead to a considerable fall in the ratio of the
participation rate of the poorly educated to the overall
participation rate - from 68.1 percent in 1981 to 53.0
percent in 1990 (chart 2). This development is further
evidence of the increasingly difficult labour market
situation faced by those with limited skills. Again, the
poorly educated of both sexes, in all major age groups and
in all provinces have been affected (table 1).
Poorly educated workers also have employment
incomes well below average. Data from the 1986 census
(Statistics Canada, 1989) show that in 1985, all male
workers with less than grade nine earned 80.4 percent of
the average male employment income while all female
workers with less than grade nine earned 75.3 percent
(chart 3). The 1981 census showed that in 1980 male
workers with less than grade nine earned 83.5 percent of
the average male wage, while all female workers earned
79.2 percent. In other words, between 1980 and 1985 the
relative earnings of both poorly educated males and
females deteriorated. Because of the declining relative
participation rate and the increasing relative unemployment rate for the poorly educated in the latter half of the
1980s, it is likely that their relative employment income
position continued to deteriorate during this period.
A very important characteristic of the poorly educated
is that they are much less likely to move in search of
economic opportunities. Chart 4, based on data from
Statistics Canada's Labour Market Activity Survey, shows
that in 1986 the incidence of interprovincial migration for
the poorly educated between the ages of 16 and 69 was
0.2 percent. This was one quarter the overall rate of 0.8
percent. Because of their lack of literacy skills, the poorly
educated are less able to obtain information on opportunities in other provinces and have less self-confidence to
uproot themselves from familiar surroundings.
Chart 2
The relative participation rate of the poorly educated
(Participation rate of those with less than 9 years of education as a proportion of overall rate)
00
80
80
75
—
75
70
70
65
65
60
60
55
—
50
55
11IIIIII
1975
1978
Source: Labour Force Survey, Statistics Canada.
74
1981
1111IIII
1984
1987
1990
50
Chart 3
Relative earnings of the poorly educated
(Earnings of those with less than 9 years of schooling as a proportion of average earnings of all workers)
O
O
100
100
80
80
60
60
40
40
20
20
,:•.~,. •:~~~ r,.::r::•
;r.r •:.ti•: r::..:...t•:::. ~ :•
r::::~::
ï r:::::•::;•:::•::::::: :
0
0
Females
Males
Fl 1980
0
1985
Chart 4
Incidence of interprovincial migration for population 16-69 by
level of educational attainment, 1986
16
10
1.2
1 2
0.8
0.8
0.4
0.4
: :
:;ti~~:.•::;:, f
0
0-8 years
9-13 years
Some
postsecondary
Postsecondary
University
degree
All groups
0
Source: Labour Market Activity Survey, Statistics Canada.
75
Changing labour demand conditions
growth was relatively strong in personal services and
construction, two industries with above average
proportions of poorly educated workers.
The relative deterioration of the labour market situation
of the poorly educated in the 1980s reflects changes in
underlying supply and demand conditions. More
specifically, there has been a large decline in demand for
the type of skills provided by the poorly educated and an
increase in demand for the types of skills provided by the
better educated 7 . This structural shift in labour demand
can be gauged by the trends in employment at the
industry and occupation level. In the 1980s there was a
strong negative correlation between industry employment
growth and the relative importance of the poorly educated
in the industry labour force. Industries such as finance,
insurance and real estate, community services, and
services to business, which have very small proportions of
their labour force with low level reading skills, had very
strong employment growth (chart 5). On the other hand,
sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, and nonagricultural primary industries had stagnant or declining
employment levels in the 1980s. These industries have a
high proportion of poorly educated workers. There were
certain exceptions to this general trend. Employment
The trends observed in industry employment growth
in the 1980s have also been evident in employment growth
by occupation (chart 6). White collar occupations
(managerial and professional, clerical, and sales occupations), which have very low proportions of poorly educated
workers, have experienced positive employment growth.
Blue collar occupations such as primary occupations,
product fabricating, and processing and machining, which
have a high proportion of workers with poor literacy skills,
had little if any net employment growth. Indeed, two-thirds
of the net employment growth between 1981 and 1989
was in managerial and professional occupations, the
occupational category which has the lowest proportion of
persons with poor literacy skills8 . There are again two
exceptions to this overall trend. Employment growth was
near average in services and construction occupations,
which both have a high proportion of poorly educated
workers.
Chart 5
Illiteracy rates by industry and employment growth
Share of industry labour force
at reading skill levels 1 and 2
Share of industry labour force
at reading skill levels 1 and 2
25
25
Agriculture • Other primary
•
• Manufacturing
20
Construction
•
20
•
Personal services
15
15
Se rv ices to
business
Retail U
10
Transportation,
communication, •
and utilities
•
Wholesale
5
0
•
Community services
•
Finance
-3%
-2
0
I I
12
l I
56%
3 4
Net employment growth, 1981-89
(average annual rate of change)
Source: Labour Force Survey and Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada.
76
10
5
o
Chart 6
Illiteracy rates by occupation and employment growth
Share of occupation labour force
at reading skills levels 1 and 2
Share of occupation labour force
at reading skills levels 1 and 2
25
25
Product •
fabricating
Primary
•
20
Services
•
Processing and
li machining
20
• Construction
15
15
10
10
Sales
•
Managerial and
professional
•
Clerical
•
5
I I
I I
0
-2%
-1
0
5
1
2
3
4
0
5%
Net employment growth, 1981-89
(average annual rate of change)
Source: Labour Force Survey and Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada.
The decreased relative importance of employment in
goods-producing industries and blue collar occupations
where literacy skills tend to be weak, and the increased
relative importance of employment in service-producing
industries and white collar occupations where literacy skills
are strong, reflect structural shifts in productivity growth
and changing skills requirements. As the real output
growth of both the goods and the service sector was about
the same in the 1980s, the weaker productivity performance of the service sector due to its lesser ability to
mechanize has meant that a growing share of total
employment is found in that sector. Indeed, almost all net
job creation in the 1980s was in the service sector.
Equally, technical change has resulted in an overall
upgrading of the skill requirements for most jobs (Myles
1988). Workers in the 1990s are increasingly required to
read manuals, perform numerical calculations, operate
sophisticated equipment, and use information technologies.
Conclusion
The findings of this article provide strong support for the
view that illiteracy represents a major challenge facing
Canadian society in the 1990s 9 . Because of the economic
costs of illiteracy, one of the most productive investments
society can make is in the improvement of the basic
literacy skills of Canadians. Moreover, given the
increasing marginalization of the poorly educated in the
labour market, basic equity considerations demand a
greater commitment to upgrading literacy skills. Canada
can no longer afford to ignore the illiteracy issue.
References
Blackburn, M., D. Bloom, and R. Freeman (1990), The
Declining Economic Position of Less Skilled American
Men, in G. Burtless ed. A Future of Lousy Jobs?,
Brookings Institution.
Canadian Business Task Force on Literacy (1988),
Measuring the Costs of Illiteracy in Canada, February.
77
DesLauriers, R. (1990), The Impact of Employee Illiteracy
on Canadian Business, Conference Board of Canada,
materials only for limited purposes; those at level 3
can use reading materials in a variety of situations
provided the material is simple, clearly laid out and
the tasks involved are not too complex; those at level
4 are able to meet most everyday reading demands.
report 58-90.
Drouin, M.J. (1990), Workforce Literacy: An Economic
Challenge for Canada, Hudson Institute of Canada.
4.
78% of those with no schooling or elementary
schooling are not able to handle numerical operations
required to meet most everyday demands, compared
to only 34 percent of Canadians with higher levels of
educational attainment. Those with no schooling or
elementary schooling only represented 29 percent of
persons with very limited numeracy abilities (level 1),
although this group comprised 9 percent of the
population aged 16-69.
5.
It is interesting to note that in regions where the
overall unemployment rate is low, the unemployment
rate of the poorly educated is quite close to the overall
unemployment rate, while in high unemployment
regions the unemployment rate of the poorly educated
is well above the overall rate (see Table 1). For
example, in 1990 in Ontario the unemployment rate of
those with 0-8 years of education was 7.1 percent,
compared to the overall rate of 6.3 percent, a ratio of
1.32. In contrast, in Atlantic Canada the unemployment rate of the poorly educated was 23.5 percent,
compared to the overall rate of 12.8, a ratio of 1.84.
Full employment conditions appear to disproportionately increase demand for the poorly educated.
Skilled workers are more scarce and employers are
forced to hire the less skilled and educated.
6.
Data for Charts 1-2 are from Statistics Canada's
Labour Force Survey (LFS). Data for Chart 3 are from
the 1986 census; for Chart 4 from the Labour Market
Activity Survey and for Charts 5-6 from the LFS and
the Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities.
7.
The Economic Council of Canada (1990 and 1991) has
drawn a tt ention to this phenomenon. This trend has
also been observed in the United States.See
Blackburn, Bloom, and Freeman (1990) and Reich
(1991).
8.
Trends in total job openings by occupation, which
includes replacement openings, do not show such a
strong concentration of employment growth in
managerial and professional occupations because of
the existence of replacement positions in blue collar
occupations.
9.
Also see National Literacy Secretariat (1991) and
Sharpe (1990).
Economic Council of Canada (1990), Good Jobs, Bad
Jobs - Employment in the Service Economy.
Economic Council of Canada (1991), Employment in the
Service Economy.
Kozol, J. (1985), Illiterate America, Plume.
Mikulecky, L. (1990), The Scope of the Problem in Impact
of Undereducation on the Less Developed Regions of
Advanced Economics, Atlantic Provinces Economic
Council.
Myles, J. (1988), The Expanding Middle: some Canadian
evidence on the deskilling debate, Canadian Review of
Sociology and Anthropology.
National Literacy Secretariat (1991), Literacy and
Business: An Economic Challenge for the '90s, Canadian
Business Review, Spring.
Reich, R. (1991), The Work of Nations, Knopf, New York.
Sharpe, A. (1990), Training the Workforce: A challenge
facing Canada in the 1990s, Perspectives on Labour and
Income, Statistics Canada, Cat. No. 75-001, Winter, 1990.
Statistics Canada (1989), Employment Income, cat.98-129,
December:
Statistics Canada (1990), Survey of Literacy Skills Used in
Daily Activities.
Footnotes
1.
The below average skill levels means that their
marginal productivity - contribution to output - is
lower and, hence, the returns from their contribution
are lower. The narrow job range they face means
their bargaining power in the labour market is weak.
2.
For discussion of estimates of the cost of illiteracy in
the United States see Kozol (1985).
3.
The LSUDA divides Canadians into four reading skill
levels. Those at level 1 have difficulty dealing with
printed materials; those at level 2 can use printed
78
7.
Workplace Literacy: The
Results of the LSUDA Survey
By
B. A. Hawrysh
Vice President
Occupational Safety & Health
Council of Forest Industries of British Columbia
Statistics Canada reports based on the Survey of
Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities provide very useful
conclusions and results in dealing with workplace literacy
issues. Careful review and analysis of the data will supply
business, labour and education and training practitioners
with important information on the skill deficits and also
indicate possible strategies for dealing with the obvious
skill shortage. The survey and subsequent reports will
also have an important influence on many other functions,
such as staffing, training, organization design, contractual
relationship and so on.
Reading skills
It is important to evaluate the findings and translate
them to applications that are relevant to the workplace. As
an example, the survey shows that something like seven
percent of Canada's adults are at reading level 1 and "are
unlikely to expect that printed text will be meaningful and
they are unlikely to look to text for help". For workplace
managers and decision makers, this attitude has serious
consequences for the performance of workers who may be
required to receive, decode and act on new information or
directions related to their job functions. What is equally
important is that conventional methods of instruction, such
as personal demonstration and verbal discussion, are
being replaced by hard copy instructions or computer
printouts and video screens.
Level 2 readers can use printed materials only for
limited purposes such as finding a familiar word in a
simple text. For workplace managers, this places
emphasis on the clarity of the communications as
presented, in terms of design and choice of language. We
are all too familiar with problems that exist with WHMIS
(Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System)
documents, maintenance manuals and job procedure
manuals that confuse rather than inform the reader.
Much of the information in use in the workplace today
and to an increasing degree in the future is "sequential".
Decision making and optional choices are being dictated
by processes and control mechanisms that flow from, or
are dependent on, achieved results or conditions. Consequently, level 3 readers, who may be able "to read" but
need to combine information to allow them to make
decisions, are very much affected by the scope of their
skill to find the relevant information and how well it is
presented to enable them to make decisions. Again, for
workplace managers, these capabilities and the appropriate design of the information is vital in terms of
productivity and quality-related decision making and
performance.
Level 4 characteristics illustrate judgmental skills and
critical analysis. The changing organizational design of the
workplace emphasizes the participation and involvement of
workers. It depends on and stresses the application and
value of workers' knowledge and input. It therefore seems
evident that competency at this level is an important
criteria for job design and workplace organization.
What LSUDA tells us is that we are to respond
appropriately to a changing work environment. The
information in the assessment of the literacy skills clearly
directs our attention to the quality and content of the
communications methods as well as the individual
competency and skills of the workers.
Numeracy skills
The results of the survey of Literacy Skills Used in
Daily Activities translated to numeracy are categorized into
three levels. There appears to be a strong correlation
between the measured reading and numeracy skills. The
results point to very similar situations and many of the
same kinds of barriers to understanding the information
being conveyed. The limited capability to decode and
understand the numerical information and to translate it
into appropriate decisions seem to be an important issue
for workplace functions.
An impo rt ant point is that close to twenty percent of
adults born outside Canada have limited numeracy skills.
For industry, depending on a potential workforce with such
limitations has serious consequences. Competence and
familiarity with numerical values will be an increasing
requirement or job criteria. Documents, reports, control
processes, performance records are but a few examples of
the need to understand the meaning of numerical
hieroglyphics and to utilize the information in decisions
and actions.
Writing skills
The functional writing skills were assessed by simple
tests of the ability to convey simple instructions and basic
information by way of written notes or letters. Again, the
gathered results seem to indicate a distribution of
competence and capability similar to that recorded for
reading and numeracy skills.
It is difficult to translate these results into significance
for workplace functions, except to illustrate that such
limitations do have an impact on the opportunities for
individuals to participate in and contribute to the workplace
organization.
The ability to take and transcribe simple meeting
notes, the recording of results and observations of
procedures, requests for information and assistance are all
part of workplace interrelationships. Employers seeking
those skills in workers are seriously limited when something like thirty-eight percent of the potential workforce
does not possess satisfactory basic writing skills.
Conclusions
The survey presents employers with a set of results
that appear to confirm their ;iuitive concerns. On the one
hand, employers see a workplace that is rapidly changing
80
due to technology and structural reorganization, and on the
other hand, they are confronted with a workforce that will
have difficulty adapting and functioning in the workplace of
the next decade.
For the worker, the future workplace will be more
complicated and filled with complex and frustrating
requirements that appear threatening and challenging.
The demands and the ability to function with confidence
and self-reliance will be more difficult in the future.
If these two diverging views are even moderately
accurate forecasts, the consequences for employers and
workers are serious. At the present time "solutions" to the
problems of literacy are being offered right, left and centre.
Our real challenge, before we move too quickly to apply
solutions and cures, is to properly understand the problem.
The survey results provide a useful beginning to
evaluate the degree of skill limitations. What is now
required is a reasonable and accurate assessment of the
skills that will be required. In simple terms, we need a
needs analysis in order to be able to seek out suitable and
appropriate solutions.
8. Literacy for Workers: A Labour
Perspective on Basic Skills
ÎlTERACY
FOR WORKERS
By
Carol D. MacLeod
National Coordinator of Education
Canadian Federation of Labour
The opportunity to breathe life into statistics which
offer a literacy profile of Canada's adult population was a
welcome one. Intuitively and experientially, we know that
various groups in society perceive the world differently.
This means that an understanding of literacy issues -- and
their impact -- is linked to an awareness of the particular
context within which it is housed.
A labour perspective on basic skills is rooted in the
context of the workplace and the advocacy role that
unions' hold as guardians of workers' rights.
Unions' stake in education and literacy
Unions have a proud tradition of excellence in
education and training. For example, the building and
construction trade unions -- via apprenticeship programs -are vanguards of learning opportunities. Basic skills
upgrading is seen as an expansion of this tradition by
providing the foundation for life-long learning.
There is a growing awareness among labour leaders
that an education strategy is key to labour's response to
changing labour market pa tt erns. Momentum for this
opinion is abetted by the fact that 75% of the next
decade's workforce is already out of school.
The challenges facing Canada in terms of a global
market are staggering. Business has at least two ways to
compete in the new economy: (1) to deskill jobs and cut
costs, such as wages and benefits; or, (2) take a long-term
view and make the worker central to the organization's
business plan. Education and training, including basic
skills upgrading, becomes critical to the high-skill strategy.
The labour movement has an interest in promoting a
highly-skilled workforce as a means of attracting and
maintaining jobs in Canada; however, the human contract
between unions and their members is paramount.
One of the contributions the labour movement
continues to make to the public discussion on literacy and
adult education, is to consistently reinforce that the
implications of literacy go way beyond productivity and
economic growth.
A vision of a just society positions literacy as a social
issue that is linked to long-standing union goals. The
labour movement is interested not only in a skilled
workforce, but an informed citizenry. A progressive nation
is one in which its people are able to fully participate in
their communities and draw on their potential to build a
better life for their families. Quality of life issues cannot be
divorced from any perspective on literacy as they reflect
some of the human aspirations that we all share.
Given this context, it is not surprising that the trade
union movement is among Canada's most strident voices
of support for literacy.
Literacy in the modern workplace
In today's world, literacy means far more than the
three Rs. It includes many different kinds of skills such as
problem-solving, communications, and English or French
as a second language.
Integral to an understanding of workplace literacy is an
awareness that literacy standards increase as society
becomes more complicated. For example, computer
literacy is now considered by many to be a key basic skill;
a high school diploma is now a minimum entry-level job
requirement. This simply wasn't the case 20 years ago.
How does this translate to a workplace context? In
many instances, technology has changed so dramatically
that previously acceptable standards of literacy are now
too low. The crane industry yields an illustration. Modern
cranes carry on-board computers and operators now
require higher-level math in order to calculate load charts
as opposed to relying on the "feel" of the machine.
Additionally, there is more work-related reading
required now than at any other point in time. The
introduction of Workplace Hazardous Materials Information
System (WHMIS) legislation contributes to this increase.
Everyone is required to read and interpret Material Safety
Data Sheets as a preventive health and safety measure.
How do the statistics translate to a workplace context?
Statistics can be an extremely useful tool; however, they
are also subject to abuse. Special e ff orts must be made to
ensure that the statistics related to a literacy profile of
Canadian adults are interpreted accurately.
One of the most common errors made in attempting to
grapple with the scope of literacy issues, is to extrapolate
national statistics to specific workplaces. This practice is
dangerous - as well as invalid. It cannot be assumed that
since 16% of Canada's adults have limited reading skills,
then 320 out of a workforce of 2000 have limited skills.
Build a
better life.
Family
.—u
'lb..-
-..1/
Union
Maintain and ~--o
enhance skills.
Workplace
Community
Each workplace is unique and is characterized by a
particular mix of situational factors. Technological change,
demographics, regional factors, and the status of the
learning culture are only a few of the situational factors that
must be analyzed. It is important to resist the temptation
to apply broad statistics as a quick means of obtaining an
instant snapshot of a specific workplace.
82
0—re
Understand and
interpret the
collective
agreement.
Exercise
o--» democratic
rights.
Following that line of logic, it also stands to reason
that there is no one literacy program model that will be
appropriate to every situation. A single factor, such as
whether the labour-management relationship is collaborative or adversarial, may influence the type of model
selected. An approach that is successful in an o ff ice
setting in downtown Toronto may not work at all in a
manufacturing plant in Brandon, Manitoba.
Developing a literacy program for workers requires an
active search for a model that is sensitive to specific needs
and circumstances.
Signs and signals
There are a range of signs and signals, common to
many workplaces, that may indicate a need for basic skills
upgrading...
-
The local union President is concerned about health
and safety. Although WHMIS training has been
implemented, many still ask questions about the
labels and Material Safety Data Sheets.
-
Training Coordinators have noticed that 25% of those
who take training have trouble completing the courses.
Many show up for the first session, take one look at
the course material, and never return.
-
The mother tongue of over 70% of the local union
membership is a language other than English or
French. The union office is bombarded with requests
to interpret and explain pension-related documents.
-
A Steward is frequently asked for help to read and
interpret the collective agreement.
-
Union leaders realize that their members need to learn
higher-level math and computer skills as a result of
technological change.
-
The Labour-Management Committee discusses a
worker-centred approach to daily operations. It is
recognized thatthiswillrequireenhanced
communications and problem-solving skills on the part
of the workers.
A balanced perspective
International Literacy Year helped elevate literacy to a
high-profile national interest. Emerging from that positive
framework is a concern that the true dynamics of the issue
-- particularly as it relates to the workplace -- are
misunderstood by many.
Human nature is such that a statistical focus on skill
deficiencies make it more challenging to see the forest for
the trees. Many people have the impression that a
shockingly large percentage of the workforce sign their
name with an X and can't add two plus two. Even worse is
the impression that critical thinking skills, among those
who have difficulty reading or writing, are marred. These,
and similar myths, act as barriers to those who wish to
improve their basic skills.
Literacy should be framed within an empowering
paradigm that highlights opportunities and choices for
people. Unfortunately, much of the print generated has
been devoid of empowerment. The blatant fostering of a
disease-laden image (e.g. "stamping out the epidemic of
literacy") is one such counterproductive example.
It is not helpful when literacy is promoted - wittingly or
unwittingly - as the predominate solution to Canada's
economic woes. A balanced viewpoint recognizes that the
skills of workers is one of many factors that affect
economic growth. Equally pertinent components include
business investment in new equipment, work processes
(that is, the way work is structured and jobs are designed),
fiscal policy, and the amount of money allocated to
training.
Profiles of Success
Houng:
* a cleaner in a hospital, took
a course to improve her
reading and writing skills in
English. She went on to
retrain in nursing and to
apply for Canadian
citizenship.
Marcel:
Leita:
upgraded his math and
computer skills to qualify for
the technical training
needed to work on mobile
cranes. Improved math skills
also helped him take a larger
role in family finances,
an office clerk, improved her
basic skills and earned a
high school equivalency
diploma. Six months later,
she applied for a better
paying position and got it.
83
The promotion of a balanced perspective of literacy in
Canadian society is in everyone's best interest.
The power to grow
The labour movement inherently understands that
some people can read the world far better than those that
can read the word. The literacy profile of Canadian adults
suggests that opportunities to build on that foundation
must be created.
84
Where possible, forging partnerships on the basis of
mutual interests is a workable plan of action, providing the
union is an equal partner from the outset. Labour and
management have vital interests that often allow them to
jointly plan for change in the workplace.
The challenge of the Twenty-First Century is to excel
in the development of Canada's human resources. This
vision requires a strong public and private commitment to
education and training. The power to grow and thrive in
the midst of change is a fundamental right of each and
every Canadian.
9. Gender, Nativity and Literacy:
Proficiency and Training
Issues
By
Monica Boyd
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Carleton University
I. Literacy levels for men and women
The declaration of 1990 as International Literacy Year
has focused worldwide attention on literacy and its
implications for the social and economic well-being of
people. But interest in the topic predates 1990. One of
the major initiatives associated with the 1985 Nairobi
Conference on Women was the collection of worldwide
data on literacy measures for females and males . The
data show that in many regions of the world, more females
than males are "illiterate" (United Nations, 1985). Higher
literacy figures for men are explained by the higher status
of males compared to females in many countries and by
low levels of economic development. When educational
resources are scarce and costly, males rather than
females are the ones to attend school and to complete
higher levels of schooling. Since literacy and educational
attainments are so closely related (see Part I: Section 3.1),
these educational advantages for males translate into
advantages in literacy.
As an industrial nation, Canada has an educational
system which requires school attendance until residents
are in their mid-teens. These requirements are the same
for females and males. It is not surprising, then, to
observe similarities in the literacy proficiency levels of
adult females and males.
Tables 1 and 2 present the distribution of reading and
numeracy skills for adult females and males. These tables
use measures defined in the main study (see Part I:
Sections 2.0, 2.1 and 2.2). The most severe difficulties
exist at levels 1 and 2 of the reading distribution and at
level 1 for the numeracy distribution. Level 1 readers have
difficulty dealing with printed material and are most likely
to identify themselves as people who cannot read. Persons
at level 2 can use printed material for limited purposes
such as finding a familiar word in a simple text. Fifteen
percent of Canadian adult females and fourteen percent of
adult males have these very limited literacy skills. The
majority, over 60 percent, of both women and men, can
meet most reading demands (level 4).
Adult females and males also are very similar in their
numeracy skills. Table 2 shows that 13% of women and
15% or men have very limited numeracy abilities (level 1).
Table 1
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69
showing reading skill levels by gender
Population
(in thousands)
Reading skill level
Percent(a)
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Females
Males
8,893
8,812
100%
100%
5%
9%
23%
63%
5%
10%
22%
63%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics
Canada, 1989.
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either
of Canada's official languages.
(a) Figures may not sum to exactly 100 percent because of
rounding.
Table 2
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69
showing numeracy skill levels by gender
Females
Males
Population
(in thousands)
8,644
8,543
Numeracy skill level
Percent(a)
1
2
3
100%
13%
26%
61%
100%
15%
23%
63%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics
Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either
of Canada's official languages and persons whose reading
skills were too limited to take the main numeracy test
items.
(a) Figures may not sum to exactly 100 percent because of
rounding
Note:
Over sixty percent can deal with material requiring simple
sequences of numerical operations to be performed (level
3).
The 1987 Southam Literacy Survey found substantial
differences in literacy skills between men and women
(Calamai, 1987: 29-30). However, the findings of the
Southam Literacy survey should not be compared with
those presented here from the October 1989 Survey of
Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Definitions and
measurement of _ lteeracy differ greatly between the two
surveys. The Southam Literacy Survey presented various
tests pertaining to literacy to a panel of 25 members,
_
asking them to indicate whether a functionally literate
person should be able to answer them (Read and MacKay,
1988:20-22; Satin, Jones, Kelly and Montigny, 1990). The
views of the panel then were used to construct a measure
of "functional illiterates." In contrast, the Survey of
Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities derived levels of
literacy from a series of tasks designed to separately
measure reading, numeracy and writing skills with respect
to activities commonly encountered in daily life in Canada
(Satin, Jones, Kelly and Montigny, 1990).
Il. Reading levels, foreign birth and gender
Although the total female and male populations aged
16-69 have similar distributions of reading and numeracy
skills, such similarity may not exist for the foreign-born for
several reasons. First, immigrants bring with them the
imprint of their former societies. Gender differences in
education may exist within the Canadian foreign-born
population if in certain countries or regions of the world,
males have higher educational attainment and literacy
levels than females (United Nations, 1985). Second, since
the early 1980s, academics, advocacy groups and government advisory boards have stressed that immigrant
women experience greater difficulties than men in learning
English or French (Boyd, 1990; Canadian Employment and
Immigration Advisory Council; National Action Committee
on Immigrant and Visible Minority Women, 1985) . If levels
of English or French language knowledge are low, the
ability to perform English or French reading proficiency
tasks will be diminished.
Table 3 shows reading skill distributions for Canadianborn and foreign-born females and males. When looking
at this table and others, it should be remembered that the
1989 Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities
measures literacy skills in one of Canada's two official
languages, English or French (see Part I: Section 1.2). As
a result, those who reported having no skills in either of the
two official languages and therefore did not take the
literacy skill tests are excluded from the results. The data
do not indicate the literacy proficiency of all adult
immigrants. Those who did not take the tests may -- or
may not -- have high levels of reading proficiency in their
own language.
The apparent similarity between men and women in
literacy proficiency distributions is, in fact, true only for
Canadian-born men and women (table 3). Compared with
their male counterparts and the Canadian-born population,
women who are born outside Canada have the highest
percentage of limited reading proficiency in English or
French (levels 1 and 2) and the lowest percentage of
adults who can meet most reading demands (level 4).
Nearly one-third (32%) of foreign-born women have
extreme difficulty dealing with printed material or can use
printed words only for limited purposes (levels 1 and 2)
compared to over one-fifth (24%) foreign-born men and
approximately one-tenth Canadian-born women and men.
If comparisons are restricted to populations living in cities
of 500,000 or more (where 70% of the adult foreign-born
population in the survey lives), over one-third (35%) of
foreign-born women are categorized as having limited
reading skills.
People are not indifferent to their reading skills. Levels
of satisfaction with reading and writing skills generally
correspond to reading skill levels (table 4). For both
females and males, highest satisfaction is expressed by
persons who have the reading skills necessary to meet
everyday needs (level 4) with percentages declining with
decreasing levels of reading skills. Because of this
association, groups which have higher percentages with
limited reading skills generally have lower percentages
indicating satisfaction. The percentage of adult Canadians
Table 3
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 showing reading skill level by gender and Canadian foreign
birth(a)
-
Female
Male
TotalLevels
Level 3 Level 4 PopulationTotalLevelsLevel 3 Level 4
Population 1 and 2
(Thousands) 1 and 2
(Thousands)
Total. Canada
Canadian-born
Foreign-born
7284
1603
100%
100%
11%
32%
21%
27%
68%
41%
7238
1574
100%
100%
12%
24%
23%
20%
65%
56%
Residents of urban areas
of 500.000 or more(b)
Canadian-born
Foreign-born
3108
1143
100%
100%
9%
35%
21%
26%
70%
39%
3022
1094
100%
100%
10%
25%
20%
17%
70%
58%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(a) Excludes persons who did not indicate place of birth.
(b) Excludes persons in Prince Edward Island in order to maintain confidentiality of respondents.
86
Table 4
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 showing satisfaction with reading and writing ability by gender
and level of reading skill
Females
Total
Levels
Level 3
Males
Level 4
Total
Population (in thousands)
Satisfied with reading and
writing skills(a)
Percent
Yes
No
Levels
Level 3
Level 4
1 and 2
1 and 2
8868
1298
1978
5592
8733
1209
1994
5530
100%
93%
100%
76%
24%
1 00%
100%
97%
3%
100%
90%
10%
100%
71%
29%
100%
90%
10%
100%
95%
5%
7%
92%
8%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(a) The question was "All things considered, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your reading and writing skills in English (French)?" Population
size and percentages exclude the 0.3 percent of females and 0.9 percent of males who either had no opinion or did not state a response.
who say they are satisfied with their reading and writing
abilities drops from 96% to 81% respectively for
Canadian-born and foreign-born women and from 92% to
83% for Canadian-born and foreign-born men. Differences
between the Canadian-born and the foreign-born are
largest for persons with limited reading skills. Of those who
are categorized as having levels 1 and 2 reading skills,
satisfaction with reading skills is indicated by 87% versus
59% of Canadian-born and foreign-born females respectively and by 80% and 50% of Canadian and foreign-born
males.
Ill. Schooling and language knowledge: implications
for reading skills
Education generally means higher levels of reading
proficiency. If immigrants in general, and migrant women
in particular, had lower levels of education than the
Canadian-born (or foreign-born men), this might explain
the higher percentages of foreign-born females with limited
reading skills. However, two facts suggest that educational
differences at best offer only a partial explanation. First, at
least for those persons who undertook the reading skill
tests, a larger percentage of immigrants completed high
school or more. Seventy-one percent of foreign born
females have completed secondary schooling or higher as
have 64% of Canadian-born females, 77% of foreign-born
males and 71% of Canadian-born males.
Second, within two major categories of schooling
(those with less than a secondary completion and those
with secondary completion or more), a higher percentage
of foreign-born women and men are categorized as having
limited reading skills (levels 1 and 2) compared to their
Canadian-born counterparts (table 5). At the same time,
sizable gender differences in reading skills persist in the
foreign-born population but not in the Canadian-born
population. Among those who completed secondary
schooling, 21% of the foreign-born women are categorized
as having limited reading skills compared to 14% of
foreign-born males, and 3% of Canadian-born women and
men.
Language knowledge is another possible reason for
gender and nativity differences in reading skills. Persons
who have learned English or French recently may display
lower levels of literacy because of limited knowledge of the
language or because of unfamiliarity with items used in the
skill tests (see Part I: Section 4.1.1).
Language first spoken is one indicator of familiarity
with English or French. Immigrants whose mother tongue
is a language other than French or English have higher
percentages with very limited reading skills in English or
French (table 5). Again, foreign-born females are most
likely to experience these difficulties. Forty-two percent of
foreign born females with a mother tongue other than
English for French are categorized at levels 1 and 2,
compared to 36% of their male counterparts.
The sample size of the 1989 Survey of Literacy Skills
Used in Daily Activities limits an exhaustive analysis of
factors underlying the greater percentages of immigrants
in general, and foreign-born women in particular, at
reading skill levels 1 and 2. English or French literacy proficiency reflects a number of factors including recency of
arrival, English or French language ability, literacy
proficiency in one's own language, level of schooling,
work-related literacy requirements and literacy training
opportunities. Because these factors often are interrelated,
information from large numbers of foreign-born are
necessary to determine accurately which combinations are
the most important for English or French literacy skills.
87
Table 5
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69, showing reading skill levels by gender, Canadian-foreign birth,
language first spoken and education
Female
Male
Level 3
Level 4
Population
(Thousands)
Total
Levels
1 and 2
Level 3
Level 4
26%
3%(Q)
34%
14%
40%
84%
2823
4363
100%
100%
25%
3%
35%
16%
40%
81%
100%
100%
54%
21%
26%
29%
20%
51%
346
1158
100%
100%
60%
14%
19%
19%
20%
68%
6836
488
100%
100%
11%
14°%o(Q)
21%
22%(Q)
68%
63%
6756
478
100%
100%
12%
13%(Q)
23%
26%
65%
61%
655
959
100%
100%
15%(Q)
42%
22%
30%
63%
28%
639
951
100%
100%
(1)
36%
22%(Q)
19%
73%
45%
Population
(Thousands)
Total
2624
4623
100%
100%
452
1085
Levels
1 and 2
Education(a)
Canadian-born
Less than secondary completion
Secondary completion or higher
Foreign-born
Less than secondary completion
Secondary completion or higher
Language first spoken(b)
Canadian-born
English and/or French
Other
Foreign-born
English andior French
Other
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages
Note:
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(a) Excludes persons who did not respond to the education questions.
(b) A few respondents indicated they first spoke more than one language in childhood. Because of these multiple responses, the sum of the
population estimates for each language category will not necessarily equal the total population count.
IV. Reading skills and labour market issues
Reading skills are associated with the use of printed
material to obtain knowledge, process information and
follow instructions. They are particularly important for
participating in Canada's industrial economy. Such skills
are required to perform many service oriented jobs, such
as those in finance, business, education, and health.
Reading skills also mean the ability of workers to train,
retrain and adjust to shifts in the type of jobs available as
the economy changes. Persons with low reading skills are
doubly handicapped -- their employment prospects are
restricted to jobs without high reading requirements, and
they do not benefit from training and retraining programs
which generally assume reading skills (Satin, Jones, Kelly
and Montigny, 1990).
Table 6 shows that limited reading skills depress
employment prospects. However, the employment of the
foreign-born is less affected by limited reading skills. In
88
terms of employment during the 12 months preceding the
survey, over half (57%) of foreign-born women with
reading skill levels 1 and 2 indicate they have worked at
least a week compared to 33% of Canadian-born women.
Similarly, for males with limited reading skills (levels 1 and
2), 77% of the foreign-born have worked one week or
more compared to 65% of the Canadian-born. Because of
these nativity differences in employment, the foreign-born
are over-represented among those workers with limited
reading skills in English or French. For example, foreignborn women represent 17% of women who indicate they
worked for one week or more during the preceding 12
months. But among women with limited reading ability
(levels 1 and 2) who have worked at least one week, over
half (52°/o) are foreign-born. Foreign-born males represent
18% of males who worked one week or more, but they are
34% of workers who are categorized at reading skill levels
1 and 2.
Table 6
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 showing employment of one or more weeks in the past twelve
months by level of reading skill, gender and Canadian-foreign birth
Female
Male
Total
Levels
1 and 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
Levels
1 and 2
Level 3
Level 4
8877
1314
1977
5586
8776
1246
1993
5537
100%
71%
29%
100%
42%
58%
100%
62%
38°/0
100%
82%
18%
100%
89%
11%
100%
69%
31%
100 0/0
87°/0
13°/0
100%
94 °ro
6%
7268
804
1538
4926
7201
869
1675
4657
100%
72%
28%
100 0%0
33%
67%
100%
61%
39%
100%
82%
18%
100%
89%
11%
100%
65%
35%
100%
87%
13%
100 °ro
94°'0
6%
1603
506
437
660
1574
376
317
880
100%é
69%
31°/a
100%
57%
43%
100%
64%
36°/0
100%
80%
20%
100%
88%
12%
Total aged 16-69(a)
Population (thousands)
Worked for 1 week or more
during past 12 months(b)?
Percent
Yes
No
Canadian born
Population (thousands)
Percent, Worked for
one week or more(b)?
Yes
No
-
Foreign born
Population (thousands)
Percent, Worked for
one week or more(b)?
Yes
No
-
100
77%
23% (Q)
100%
86%
(1)
100%
93%
7%(Q)
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages
Note:
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(a) Includes persons who did not indicate place of birth.
(b) Excludes persons who did not indicate weeks worked
Reading skills are closely associated with the type of
occupations held. For women who worked one week or
more, 38% of those with limited reading skills were
employed in service occupations compared to 13% of
those with level 4 reading skills (table 7). Another 26% of
women with limited reading skills (levels 1 and 2) held jobs
in occupations which consisted of farm, other primary
occupations and a variety of "blue collar" employment,
including occupations in processing and machining arid
textiles. Sixty-eight percent of men with limited reading
skills also worked in "primary -- blue collar" occupations
compared to 38% of men categorized as having level 4
reading skills (table 7).
Virtually all workers (called the employed population in
Part I of this report) indicate that their reading skills are
adequate for their current or most recent job. Of those
persons who had worked one week or more in the past 12
months, 99% of Canadian-born women and 98% of
Canadian-born men replied "yes" to a question asking if
their reading skills were adequate for their current or last
job. Ninety-three percent and 94% of the foreign-born
women and men replied "yes" to this question. Such
responses indicate matching between the reading skills of
workers and the reading requirements of jobs. But they do
not reveal limitations experienced as a result of reading
skills. Table 8 shows that among the foreign-born who
worked one week or more, 18% of females and 14% of
males feel that their reading skills limit their job
opportunities. Over one in ten (12%) of foreign-born
women and men also believe their reading skills in English
or French are not adequate for them in other areas of life
(table 8). The percentages of the foreign-born indicating
restrictions are higher than those observed for the nativeborn population, and they are consistent with the higher
percentages of the foreign-born population who are
categorized as having limited reading skills (table 3).
89
Table 7
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 showing employment of one or more weeks in the past twelve
months showing occupational characteristics by gender and reading skill level
Females
Reading skills Occupation held
Managerial, select
white collar(a)
Sales, clerical
Service
Other(b)
Males
Reading skills
Total
Levels
1 and 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
Levels
1 and 2
Level 3
Level 4
100%
100%
100%
100%
100%
100%
100%
100%
19%
40%
26%
14%
38%
42°/a
13%
7%
28%
15%
11%
46%
12%
16%
13%
60%
36%
16%
10%
38%
33%
40%
18%
10%
17%(Q)
19%0)
38%
26%
8%(Q)
(1)
18%
68%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high to be released
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(a) Includes managers and administrative occupations, life sciences, social sciences and religion, architects and engineers, teaching and
related, health and artistic and recreational occupations.
(b) Includes farm and primary occupations, processing, machining and related. electrical and electronics, textiles, furs and leather, wood
products, rubber. mechanics and repair, excavating and paving, other construction trades, transport equipment operators, material handling
and other craft and equipment operating occupations.
Table 8
Percentage distribution by adults, aged 16-69, who have worked one week or more in the past twelve
months, showing attitudes regarding reading skills by gender
Do you feel your reading
skills are limiting your
job opportunities?
Do you feel your reading skills in
English (French) are adequate for you in
other areas of your life?
Population
(thousands)
Total
Yes
No
Population
(thousands)
Total
Yes
No
Total population(a)
Females
Males
6206
7616
100%
100%
7°%o
8%
93%
92%
6218
7655
100°c
100 °ré
96%
94 °ro
4%
6%
Canadian-born
Females
Males
5117
6285
100%
100%
4%
6%
96%
94%
5129
6311
100%
100%
97%
96%
3%
4%
Foreign-born
Females
Males
1084
100%
18%
10 0 ° /014
°/0
82%
1331
1083
1344
100%
100%
88%
88%
12%
12%
86%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note: Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages
(a) Includes persons who did not indicate place of birth.
The 1989 Survey of Literacy Skills also asks about the
adequacy of writing skills for the job and for job
opportunities. In combination with the three questions on
reading skills, these questions create a set of five
questions on the consequences of reading and writing
skills. Persons who indicate limitations through one or
more of these questions (inadequate skills for job, job
opportunities restricted, and so on) are then asked a series
of questions about the usefulness of certain types of
programs. This subgroup thus represents persons who
90
feel that their reading or writing skills are problematic in
some way. Table 9 shows that the percentage of workers
who indicate limitations associated with reading or writing
is highest among the employed population categorized in
levels 1 and 2. Among persons working for one week or
more, 12% of women and 16% of men indicate some
restriction associated with reading or writing skills. These
percentages increase to 45% and 42% for women and
men who are categorized as having limited reading skills
(levels 1 and 2).
Table 9
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 who worked one week or more in the past twelve months, by
gender and Canadian-foreign birth showing one or more types of limitations associated with reading or
writing skills.
Female
Total
Indicates at least one
type of limitation
Total (Population in
thousands)(a)
Percent
Yes
None
Levels
1 and 2
Male
Level 3
Level 4
Total
Levels
1 and 2
Level 3
Level 4
6331
556
1220
100%
12%
100%
45%
100%
15%
4555
100%
8%
7791
100%
16%
854
100%
42%
1734
100%
20%
5203
100%
1 1%
88%
55%
85%
92%
84%
58%
80%
89%
Canadian-born (population
in thousands)
Percent
Yes
None
5226
263
938
4025
6409
100%
10%
90%
100%
27%
73%
100%
15%
85%
100%
8%
92%
100%
15%
85%
562
100%
34%
66%
1461
100%
21%
79%
4386
100%
11%
89%
Foreign-born (population
in thousands)
Percent
Yes
None
1099
100%
23%
77%
290
100%
61%
39%
280
100%
(1)
86%
530
100%
(1)
92%
1381
100%
20%
80%
291
100%
58%
42%
273
100%
16%
84%
817
100%
8%(Q)
92%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(a) Includes persons who did not indicate place of birth.
Note:
The foreign-born population is more likely than the
Canadian-born population to indicate at least one
restriction associated with reading and writing skills. This is
especially true among those who either have extreme
difficulty in dealing with printed material or can use it only
for very limited purposes such as finding a word in a text
(levels 1 and 2). Of those with reading skills categorized as
level 1 or 2, approximately 6 out of 10 in the foreign-born
employed population indicate at least one type of
restriction due to reading or writing skills. To a much
greater extent than the Canadian-born, the foreign-born
population either experiences and/or perceives difficulties
associated with limited reading skills in English or French.
The subgroup of workers who perceives limitations
associated with their reading and writing skills was asked
which of four specified types of training might be useful.
As shown in table 10, approximately six out of ten
respondents indicated the usefulness of three programs
which either teach job-related reading and writing skills,
help with the continuation of formal education or provide
specialized courses to help prepare for a specific job. A
somewhat smaller percentage indicated the utility of a
program that teaches everyday reading and writing skills.
However, patterns regarding program usefulness also
differ between the Canadian and foreign-born populations.
Compared to the Canadian-born, a slightly lower percentage of foreign-born said programs which continue formal
education or prepare for a specific job are useful. Instead,
the foreign-born were more likely than the Canadian-born
to indicate the usefulness of programs which teach jobrelated reading and writing skills or teach everyday
reading and writing skills. Percentages for foreign-born
women were especially high with 79% indicating the
usefulness of a program teaching job-related reading and
writing skills and 66% indicating the usefulness of a
program to teach everyday reading and writing skills (table
10).
91
Table 10
Percentage distribution of adults aged 16-69 who worked one week or more in the past twelve months and
indicated limitations of reading and/or writing skills showing responses(a) to questions on usefulness of
programs by gender and Canadian-foreign birth
Female
Total (b) Canadian- Foreignbornborn
Male
Total (b) Canadian- Foreignbornborn
Would the following types
of training be useful to you?
A)
A program that teaches jobrelated reading and writing skills
Population (in thousands)(a)
Percent
Yes
No
B)
250
100%
79%
(1 )
1146
100%
62%
38%
898
100%
61%
39%
248
100%
67%
738
100%
61%
39%
484
100%
66%
34%
248
100%
51%
49%
1146
100%
60%
40%
898
100%
61%
39%
248
100%
54%
46 °ro
743
100%
66%
34%
487
100%
68%
32%
250
100%
61%
1143
100%
895
100%
63%
37%
64%
36%
248
100%
60%
40%(Q)
750
100%
48%
52%
493
100%
251
100%
39%
66%
1159
100%
51%
61%
34%
49%
902
100%
49%
51%
33%(Q)
Specialized courses that
prepare you for a specific job
Population (in thousands)(a)
Percent
Yes
No
D)
487
100%
49%
51%
A program to help you continue
with your formal education
Population (in thousands)(a)
Percent
Yes
No
C)
743
100%
59%
41%
39%(Q)
A program that teaches everyday
reading and writing skills
Population (in thousands)(a)
Percent
Yes
No
256
100%
61%
39%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note: Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high to be released.
(Q) Users are cautioned that the sampling variability associated with this estimate is high.
(a) Excludes persons who were asked the questions but did not state a response.
(b) Includes persons who did not indicate a place of birth.
In addition to being asked about the usefulness of four
types of training, the subgroup of workers also was asked
to indicate if the participant, the employer and/or the
government should pay for these programs, with multiple
answers permitted. Among all women, 34% said the
participant should pay, 30% said the employer should pay
and 62% indicated the government should pay. Comparable percentages for men were 42% (the participant),
27% (the employer) and 57% (the government). Support
for funding from government was highest among the
foreign born, with 68% of both foreign-born females and
males indicating that the government should pay for such
programs, compared to 54% and 58% of Canadian-born
women and men.
92
V. Implications
Overall, literacy distributions are quite similar for the
adult female and male populations who undertook English
or French literacy tests. However, examining literacy levels
for the total population hides important dissimilarities in
literacy for foreign-born females and males. A higher
percentage of foreign-born women -- close to one-third -are categorized as having very limited reading skills
compared to foreign-born males or to Canadian-born
women and men. For the foreign-born population whose
mother tongue is neither English nor French, over one in
four foreign-born women and over one in three foreignborn men either have extreme difficulty in dealing with
printed material or else can use printed words only for
limited purposes. Satisfaction with reading skills generally
corresponds to levels of reading skills. Overall, foreignborn women are the least likely to express satisfaction with
their skills, followed by foreign-born males and the
Canadian-born population.
the foreign-born population and especially among
immigrant women. Third, not only does a high percentage
of workers with low reading levels see literacy training
programs as useful, but also they are more likely to see
such programs as being funded by government rather than
by participants or employers.
Among those with lower reading skills, greater
percentages of the foreign-born than Canadian-born
worked at least one week during the year preceding the
survey. However, foreign-born workers also were more
likely to indicate that reading or writing skills have limited
their job opportunities or are inadequate for other areas of
their lives. Percentages indicating limitations are highest
for those with limited reading skills. Well over half of the
foreign born female and male workers categorized as
Such responses which favour government funding do
not preclude individual or employer financial support.
Rather, they are consistent with the variety of existing
literacy programs and funding arrangements in which
provincial and federal governments play a major role
(Menzie, 1988). What the responses do emphasize,
however, is the existence of groups that might benefit from
literacy e ff orts, that see literacy training as useful for
themselves and that look to government as a source of
having levels 1 and 2 reading skills felt their reading and
funding.
writing skills limited them, compared to slightly more than
one-fourth and one-third of the comparable Canadian-born
workers.
Questions on the usefulness of various types of
training show high levels of support for programs among
those workers who indicated limitations from their reading
and writing skills. Foreign-born women are especially
likely to indicate the usefulness of programs that teach jobrelated reading and writing skills or that teach everyday
reading and writing skills.
These findings have three implications for e fforts to
improve literacy in Canada. First, it clarifies which groups
are likely to be assisted by literacy programs. Immigrants
in general, and foreign-born women in pa rt icular, have
higher percentages with limited reading skills than do the
Canadian-born. Second, it indicates that many individuals
are dissatisfied with their skills and experience limitations
as a result of them. Many workers indicate the usefulness
of specific types of literacy training. These expressions of
dissatisfaction and support for training are highest among
The forms such training might take is a matter of
considerable debate among target groups and
practitioners (Calamai, 1987; Read and MacKay. 1988).
Designed as a national survey to measure literacy levels in
Canada, the 1989 Survey of Literacy Skills did not
investigate the nature and effectiveness of various literacy
training methods and programs. However, the findings of
the survey are consistent with calls for a combination of
program types and a flexible approach informed by user
characteristics. Among those who have experienced
limitations due to reading and writing skills, Canadian-born
and foreign-born female and male workers vary in their
assessment of which types of literacy programs are useful
for them. As well, groups which do not have English or
French mother tongues may benefit from a combination of
language and literacy training rather than an enhancement
of literacy skills alone. Variations in program type,
informed by user characteristics may be especially
important in meeting the literacy training needs of groups,
such as foreign-born women, whose reading skills in
English or French are limited.
93
Bibliography
Boyd, M. (1990). Immigrant Women: Language,
Socioeconomic Inequalities and Policy Issues. In Ethnic
Demography: Canadian Immigrant Racial and Cultural
Variations, edited by S. Hali, F. Trovato and L. Driedger.
Ottawa: Carleton University Press.
Calamai, P. (1987). Broken Words: Why Five Million
Canadians are Illiterate. Southam Survey. Toronto:
McLaren, Morris and Todd.
Canadian Employment and Immigration Advisory Council.
(1991). Immigrants and Language Training. Ottawa:
Canadian Employment and Immigration Advisory Council.
Menzie, H. (1988). Illiteracy in Canada. Background BP189E. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Research Branch.
94
National Action Committee on Immigrant and Visible
Minority Women. (1985). Brief of 25 Recommendations
presented to the Ministers of Health and Welfare Canada,
Employment and Immigration Commission, Status of
Women Canada, Advisory Council on the Status of
Women, Multiculturalism, Secretary of State, June 3, 1985.
Satin, A., Jones, S., Kelly, K., and Montigny, G. National
Literacy Skill Assessment: The Canadian Experience.
Working Paper No. SSMD-90-013E. Statistics Canada,
Social Survey Methods Division.
United Nations (3 May 1985).The World Conference to
Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United
Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and
Peace. Nairobi. Selected Statistics and Indicators on the
Status of Women. (A/Conf/116.10).
10. Literacy Programming and the
Survey of Literacy Skills Used
in Daily Activities
By
Stan Jones
Centre for the Study of Adult Literacy
Carleton University
It would seem natural, I think, that any survey of
literacy skills in a population, such as the Survey of
Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, would provide
information of direct use to organizers and coordinators of
literacy programs. Unfortunately, other than providing a
slogan, "24% illiterate: a national problem", this seems not
to have been the case in previous studies. In designing
the LSUDA survey, we wanted to provide datâ of use to
adult literacy practitioners. This chapter is an attempt to
do just that.
In particular, I want to deal with matters of program
design. Using responses to the questionnaire and the
results of the test, this chapter is intended to report in a
general way on what potential learners told us about what
they might need and not need. Because we asked
questions mostly about reading program needs, I will
cover only that and will say nothing about numeracy and
only a little about writing.
The results of the reading skill test that formed part of
the LSUDA survey are discussed in detail in earlier
sections of this publication. It is tempting to use those
results as an indicator of the number of potential learners
in adult literacy programs. Thus one might argue that
literacy programs need to be provided for some 16% of
the adult population because that many are at the lowest
two reading skill levels. I want to argue for some caution.
All respondents to the test were asked whether they
thought their reading skills were adequate for daily living'.
As table 1 shows, most Canadians feel that their skills are
adequate, though those at lower reading levels were much
more doubtful than those at the top.
Some people express surprise and concern when they
discover that only about 5% of the respondents felt their
skills to be inadequate since some 7% of the respondents
were at level 1 and 9% at level 2. It should be kept in
mind that the test does not measure self-judged adequacy,
but only the level of skill. Adequacy is the match of that
skill to need and if someone only needs level 2 skills, then
they are unlikely to judge level 2 skills inadequate. In
support of the validity of the test, of course, is that those at
level 1 are much more likely to express inadequacy than
those at level 3 or level 4. What it does mean is that use
of the reading level results to forecast program demand
are very much likely to overestimate the real demand,
because demand is largely based on an individual's sense
of need.
Because these observations point to the importance of
bringing self-assessments into the picture, it is worth
spending a bit more time looking at some of the other
ways we asked respondents to judge their own reading
and writing skills. One of the questions asked respondents
to rate their skills on a five-point scale 2 . As table 2
indicates, their ratings, while not exactly matching the test
results, parallel them. While we cannot be sure that all
respondents used the same criteria, the pattern of results
suggests some commonality among the respondents and
some commonality with the direct test.
It is interesting that a number of respondents who
rated their skills as poor, nonetheless reported that they
were adequate (table 3).
Table 1
Self - reported adequacy of reading skills for daily activities
Reading skill level
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
Are your reading skills
adequate for daily living?
Yes
No
62%
38%
89%
11%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada. 1989.
Note: Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
95%
5%
98%
2%
95%
5%
Table 2
Self - ratings of reading and writing skills
Reading skill level
Rate your reading and
writing skills in English
1 (Poor)
2
3
4
5 (Excellent)
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
32%
18%
28%
16%
(1)
(1 )
12%
39%
27%
18%
(1)
4%
33%
38%
24%
(1 )
2%
17%
45%
37%
2%
4%
23%
40%
31%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
Table 3
Self - reported adequacy of reading skills and self - rating of reading and writing skills
Self-rating of reading and writing skills
Poor
1
Are your reading skills
adequate for daily living?
Yes
No
25%(Q)
75%
2
3
4
Excellent
5
Total
64%
36%
92%
9%
99%
(1)
99%
(1)
95%
5%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the variability associated with this estimate is high.
A third set of self-assessment questions also sheds
some light on this issue. Respondents were asked to
report how satisfied they were with their skills 3 . Those at
lower reading skill levels were less likely to be satisfied
with their skills than those at higher levels (table 4).
However, when asked to qualify their satisfaction, level 1
respondents were more likely to say they were only
"somewhat satisfied" (63%) than were those at higher
levels (41%, 32%, and 21%). On the other hand, those at
level 1 who were dissatisfied were more likely to qualify
their dissatisfaction as "very" (61%) than were those at
higher levels (28%, 25%, 13%).
Respondents who had worked in the last 12 months
were asked questions about the adequacy of their skills for
employment. Not surprisingly, only 2% of all respondents
felt they were inadequate for their current job 4 , but, as
table 5 shows, those at lower reading skill levels were
more likely to report difficulties. Most workers are, of
course, reasonably skilled at the job they do and these
results are what we would expect. But again, they pose
96
problems for advocates of workplace literacy programs,
because they do not show a large demand by workers for
literacy training connected to their work. On the other
hand, there is evidence that more workers may feel that
their skills would not allow them to improve their job or find
a new one. When asked about this, 8% of all respondents
who were in the labour force felt their reading skills would
limit their job opportunities, with more of those at lower
levels (table 6) saying they had some problems. Indeed,
at level 1, a majority feel that their skills limit their
opportunities. These job literacy findings accord with
those of the Conference Board study of employers' views
of literacy (DesLauriers, 1990). The Conference Board
found few reports of employees whose skills were
inadequate for the job they now held, but much concern in
human resource departments of companies about whether
the literacy skills of their employees were adequate for job
training and job upgrading. The complementary findings
of both studies suggest that the focus for workplace
literacy ought to be on upgrading, and not on training
related to the employee's current job.
Table 4
Satisifaction with reading and writing skills
Reading skill level
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
57%
43%
82%
18%
91%
9%
96%
4%
92%
8%
Level 4
Total
Level 1
Are you satisfied or
dissatisfied with your
reading and writing skills?
Satisfied
Dissatisfied
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada. 1989.
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages
.
Table 5
Self reported adequacy of reading skills for job
-
Reading skill level
Level 1
Are your reading skills
adequate for your job?
Yes
No/Don't Know
76%
24%(Q)
Level 2
Level 3
93%
98%
(1)
8%(0)
98%
(1)
98%
2%
Source: Survey of literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada. 1989
Note:Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released
(0) Users are cautioned that the variability associated with this estimate is high
Table 6
Self-reported limitation of reading skills for job opportunities
Reading skill level
Level 2
55%
45 0/.
24%
76°/o
Level 1
Do you feel your reading
skills are limiting your
job opportunities?
Yes
No/Don't Know
Level 3 Level 4
9%
91%
3%
97%
Total
8%
92%'o
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada. 1989 .
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages
Note
Results such as these raise interesting dilemmas for
policy developers and literacy practitioners. How is one to
react to people whose skills are low on a direct test, who
assess their skills as poor, yet who say they are satisfied
with their skills and find them adequate for daily activities?
Should we engage in publicity exercises to convince those
with poor skills that they should find them inadequate? If
so, such an exercise needs to be handled with care,
because it can, as several already have, serve only to
stigmatize those with lower levels of skill.
97
Lest we be discouraged by this, it should be pointed
out that many of those with low levels did express an
interest in improving their literacy skills and it is worth
looking at what their preferences were. In the LSUDA
survey, respondents who indicated that their skills were
less than adequate were then asked two types of
questions about what kinds of programs might interest
them. One asked them their preference for a teacher
(table 7). There is a notable difference in preferences
between those in the labour force and others. The lower
preference for a literacy program is likely a result of
several factors. In many provinces, such as British
Columbia, most of the literacy programming in 1989 was in
community colleges and so that is the only choice for
many Canadians. Secondly, schools and community
colleges are likely to appeal to those at higher levels,
because community literacy programs seldom offer
advanced courses (61% of those at level 4 preferred
school or community college). Indeed, to the extent that
they present themselves as literacy programs, these
community programs are likely to be perceived as
inappropriate by many learners who do not regard
themselves as illiterate. The LSUDA questions only
scratch the surface of program preference, but they do
clearly raise this as an issue that literacy programs need to
explore in their own community.
A second kind of program preference question asked
of respondents with self-identified inadequacies, concerned the content of the program, both as to general
purpose and to specific type of topic. For example, those
who had worked in the last 12 months were asked whether
a program that taught job-related reading and writing skills
would be personally useful. As table 8 indicates, about
60% of those who expressed a preference said such a
program would be useful. However, a larger proportion of
those at lower literacy levels expressed interest in such a
program. All respondents were asked whether a program
Table 7
Instructor preference
In Labour
Force
Not in
Labour
Force
Volunteer or tutor
from a literacy program
20%
(1)
Teacher from a school
or college
53%
24%(Q)
Which type of instructor
would you prefer?
Friend or member of
family
No preference
9%(Q)
18%
32%(Q)
27%(Q)
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics
Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of
Canada 's official languages.
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high
for the estimate to be released.
(0) Users are cautioned that the variability associated with this
estimate is high.
Note:
designed to continue formal education would be useful.
Again, about 60% of the respondents said it would. But
here (table 9) those at the level 1 were less likely to think it
useful than those at higher levels. It might well be those at
level 1 have had such little success with school and may
be so far from any possible completion that this is a less
a tt ractive option. Those at level 2, with the largest
proportion expressing support for formal education, may
be thinking that their skills are such that they could
conceivably complete a more formal program. It is also
noteworthy that those at level 1 were less likely than those
at other levels to prefer an instructor from a formal
education setting.
Table 8
Usefulness of a job related literacy program
-
Reading skill level
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
74%
26%(0)
62%
38%
66%
34%
54%
46 °ro
61%
39%
Would a program that
teaches job-related
reading and writing skills
be useful?
Yes
No
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(0) Users are cautioned that the variability associated with this estimate is high.
98
Table 9
Usefulness of a formal education related program
Reading skill level
Level 1
Would a program designed
to help you continue your
formal education be useful?
Yes
No
51%
49%
Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
65%
35%
62%
38%
Total
60%
40%
60%
40%
Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Total
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Table 10
Usefulness of a job - specific program
Reading skill level
Level 1
Would a program designed
to help you learn a specific
job be useful?
Yes
No
59%
41%
59%
41%
67%
33%
65%
35%
Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Total
69%
31%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities. Statistics Canada. 1989
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Table 11
Usefulness of an everyday skills program
Reading skill level
Level 1
Would a program designed
to help you learn everyday
reading and writing skills
be useful?
Yes
No
69%
31%
62%
38%
52%
48%
39%
61%
51%
49%
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Note:
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Other program types suggested to all respondents
included one that would prepare someone for a specific
job (table 10) and one that taught everyday reading and
writing skills (table 11). That there is stronger support for
job-specific programs at higher levels of literacy and
stronger support for everyday literacy at lower levels
undoubtedly reflects the differing needs and abilities of
potential learners at different levels. Those at lower levels
may feel that they need to acquire broad-based skills
before they can undertake specific skill training, while
those at higher levels may decide, correctly, that they
already have the broad base.
On a general policy level, these results suggest the
need for a variety of programs. While almost every
suggested model received overall majority support, the
support by level differed from model to model. These
results also lend support to the position that literacy is a
complex, many-faceted skill, that development of literacy
skills is not uniform and that learners have different needs
at different stages in their literacy "careers".
99
Table 12
Percentage indicating that they would find the kind of training useful
Reading skill level
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
Read instructions on
packaged goods
63°13
40%
33%
(1 )
37°h
Read business and government
forms
59%
59%
69%
48%
58%
Read newspapers, magazines,
and books
68%
47%
40°/o
19%(Q)
43%
Write letters, notes
69%
67%
67%
61%
66%
Would the following types of
training help you deal with
daily activities?
Source: Survey of Literacy Skills Used in Daily Activities, Statistics Canada, 1989.
Excludes persons who reported having no skills in either of Canada's official languages.
Note:
(1) The sampling variability associated with this estimate is too high for the estimate to be released
(0) Users are cautioned that the variability associated with this estimate is high.
The final set of questions about program preferences
inquired about topics. Those who said they would find a
program dealing with everyday skills useful, were then
asked to indicate the topics they would like to see covered
(table 12). It is important to note that writing received the
widest support, not only overall but at each level. Literacy
programs have only just begun to explore writing, many
only as a means of improving reading skills. These data
suggest that writing in and of itself is a matter of concern
to all Canadians. The responses to the other topics are
predictable from the skill level. Those at higher levels
probably already read instructions and newspapers well
and thus express less interest in these topics than in
forms, which continue to present problems even to good
readers.
In all, the responses to these self-reflection questions
about literacy, about ability, need, and preferences, point
to the need for literacy programs to meet complex
demands by the learners. Some require help meeting
100
everyday literacy needs, others are ready for more
complex job-specific reading. A large number seem to be
interested in writing. Because the primary purpose of the
LSUDA project was the measurement of literacy skills,
these supplementary questions only begin to explore
issues of program design. Literacy practitioners now have
a beginning context for working out in greater detail, in
their own community, questions of need and provision.
Reference
DesLauriers, R. C. (1990).
literacy on Canadian business.
The impact of employee
(Report 58-90-E). Ottawa:
Human Resource Development Centre, The Conference
Board of Canada.
Footnotes
1. Not all respondents were asked exactly the same
question. Those who were working or looking for work
were first asked questions about the adequacy of their
reading skills for doing or finding a job and then were
asked:
2.
The question, asked of all respondents, was:
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being poor and 5 being
excellent, how would you rate your reading and
writing skills in English?
3.
The question was:
Do you feel your reading skills are adequate for
you in other areas of your life?
All things considered, are you satisfied or
dissatisfied with your reading and writing skills in
English?
Those who were not working or looking for work were
not asked any questions about occupational reading.
The only question they were asked was:
Respondents were then asked to qualify their
description:
Do you feel your reading skills are adequate for
you in your daily life?
It is possible that respondents used a different frame
of reference to answer these two questions, but they
seem reasonably close, given the context.
Is that somewhat or very?
4.
After a question about their current or most recent job,
respondents were asked
Do you feel your reading skills are/were adequate
for this job?
101
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Don't start your week without it
Get a jump on your work week by making sure you have the most current
economic and social information in Canada. Travelling by first class mail or courier,
Statistics Canada's digest, Infomat, arrives at the beginning of
each week to help you monitor key economic indicators and
\1, keep up with the most current data releases from Canada's
national statistical agency.
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In eight fact-filled pages, Infomat highlights the findings of Statistics
Canada surveys and brings them to your desk each week, often long
before detailed reports are published. Throughout the year you'll get
the first results of over 100 ongoing surveys and many special
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concise summaries of fresh facts from over 100 ongoing surveys
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Overview - an outline of the subjects covered in each issue
that you can scan in 30 seconds
guidance on how to obtain special reports to assist you in
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Current Trends and Latest Monthly Statistics sections that bring you up
to date on the Consumer Price Index, Gross Domestic Product and 21 other
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Managers, analysts and researchers who are responsible for keeping up to date on changes
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To order Infomat (11-002E), 50 issues annually for $125 in Canada, US$150 in the U.S.
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