Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies Series
Skills in Canada: First Results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)
Skill levels of selected populations within Canada
- At the national level, Aboriginal populations score lower on literacy, numeracy and PS-TRE than the non-Aboriginal population; however, the gap varies considerably across provinces and territories.
- Immigrants score lower on these skills than the Canadian-born population. Recent and established immigrants’ skills are similar in literacy and numeracy but at the national level, a larger proportion of established immigrants did not take the computer-based assessment for PS-TRE.
- Official-language minority populations tend not to perform as well as official-language majority populations (except for Anglophones in Quebec), but differences vary across provinces.
In addition to measuring the skills of the Canadian population, PIAAC provides information on the literacy, numeracy and PS-TRE skills of population groups that are unique to Canada’s makeup relative to other countries. This chapter explores skill levels of three specific population groups within selected provinces and territories: Aboriginal peoples, immigrants, and official-language minority communities.
It should be borne in mind that PIAAC was administered in Canada’s two official languages —English and French. For many Aboriginal people and immigrants, neither of these languages is their mother tongue (i.e., the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood); and not all respondents from an official-language minority chose to complete the survey in their mother tongue.
This chapter provides an overview of the results and will be followed by a series of thematic reports that will subject them to deeper analysis.
In order to provide contextual elements behind the PIAAC results for each of the three selected populations, some 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) or Census results are presented at the beginning of each section.Note 1
Proficiency of Aboriginal peoples
In the 2011 NHS, about 3% of the Canadian population aged 16 to 65 reported an Aboriginal identity, not including First Nations people living on reserve.Note 2 Aboriginal people surveyedNote 3 in PIAAC are composed of First Nations peoples living off-reserve (48%), Métis (44%), and Inuit (5%).Note 4 Most Aboriginal people reside in Ontario and the western provinces, but their proportion of the population between 16 and 65 is highest in the territories: 81% in Nunavut, 46% in Northwest Territories, and 21% in Yukon.
In PIAAC, oversamples of Aboriginal people were drawn in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia (only for those living off-reserve in large urban population centres), Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. The results were compiled to provide a picture of their skill levels in literacy, numeracy, and PS-TRE, enabling more detailed analysis of the proficiency of these populations in the seven provinces and territories.
As part of this analysis, skills in these three domains were also compared between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. When interpreting the differences between them, it is important to keep in mind that these are two very different populations. They present very different profiles in age, employment, and educational attainment, and these factors are closely associated with the abilities measured by PIAAC. Forthcoming analysis will examine these factors in more detail, to better understand the relationship between skill levels and socio-demographic attributes.
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Aboriginal populations of Canada
The Aboriginal populations of Canada are very diverse. They comprise a number of distinct cultures and languages, and are distributed in a variety of settings — from urban population centres to small, sometimes remote communities, in both the north and south of the country. They are also young and growing rapidly. In 2011, 24% of the Aboriginal population aged 16 to 65, not including First Nations people living on reserve, were categorized as youth (i.e., 16 to 24 years of age), compared to 17% among the non-Aboriginal population. Among the seven oversampled provinces and territories, the proportion of youth varied from 22% in Ontario to 32% in Nunavut. Furthermore, the number of Aboriginal people aged 16 to 65 in Canada rose by over 20% between 2006 and 2011 (NHS, 2011).
While educational outcomes for these populations are improving, a high proportion of those aged 16 to 65 had no certificate, diploma, or degree: just over a quarter in Ontario and British Columbia; about a third in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon; almost half in Northwest Territories; and two-thirds in Nunavut. In comparison, the proportions of non-Aboriginal people aged 16 to 65 in the same provinces and territories who had no certificate, diploma, or degree varied from 6% in Nunavut to 17% in Manitoba (NHS, 2011).
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Aboriginal people have lower scores in literacy and numeracy than the non-Aboriginal people
The Aboriginal population across Canada scores an average of 260 in literacy, which is lower than the average score of 274 for the non-Aboriginal population (Chart 3.1). For the seven provinces and territories that were oversampled, this difference also holds true, but the magnitude of the difference varies. In Ontario and British Columbia, it is 7 and 10 points, respectively; in the three territories, it is more than 40 points.
Chart 3.1 also shows the distribution of literacy skills across Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. At the national level, 8% of Aboriginal people score at Level 4 or 5, compared to 14% for non-Aboriginal people. At the other end of the proficiency scale, a larger proportion of the Aboriginal population (24%) is at Level 1 or below compared to the non-Aboriginal population (16%).
At the provincial and territorial level, there is again great variation. In Ontario and British Columbia (where the differences in average scores are smallest), there is a measurable difference between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations at Level 4 or 5; at the other levels, however, there is no major difference. In Yukon there is a difference between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations only at the lowest level (Level 1 or below)
In Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, however, there is a notable difference at both high and low levels. Fewer Aboriginal people than non-Aboriginal people record scores at Level 4 or 5, and many more record scores at Level 1 or below; in the three territories, the proportions at the lowest levels are at least three times higher than for the non-Aboriginal population.
The average numeracy score for the Aboriginal population across Canada is 244, whereas the score for the non-Aboriginal population is 266 (Chart 3.2). In all the seven provinces and territories oversampled, Aboriginal populations score lower than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, but these differences vary considerably. Among the four provinces, the difference ranges from 15 points in Ontario to 35 in Saskatchewan; in the territories, the difference is more than 50 points. Within each province and territory, the difference is slightly larger for numeracy than for literacy.
Looking more closely at how numeracy scores are distributed across populations, the picture is again mixed. Nationally, the proportion of those scoring at Level 4 or 5 is lower among the Aboriginal population, at 6%, than among the non-Aboriginal population, at 13%. While the magnitude of the difference varies, this is also true across all seven provinces and territories.
At the other end of the scale, 35% of the Aboriginal population across Canada score at Level 1 or below. This compares with 22% for the non-Aboriginal population. There is no notable difference in Ontario and British Columbia between the two populations for this level of proficiency; whereas in the five other provinces and territories there is, with higher proportions of Aboriginal people appearing in this category.
PS-TRE proficiency varies greatly among Aboriginal populations
Proficiency in PS-TRE varies considerably among Aboriginal populations across the country, as do the differences between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. Nationally, a smaller proportion of the Aboriginal population score at Level 2 or 3 than the non-Aboriginal population, and the same is true in Saskatchewan and the territories. In Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia, however, there is no difference between the two populations in PS-TRE proficiency.
As noted elsewhere in this report, a certain proportion of respondents were not assessed for PS-TRE, for a variety of reasons. For Canada as a whole, 21% of Aboriginal people were not assessed for PS-TRE, compared to 17% of non-Aboriginal people. In Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, a higher proportion of the Aboriginal population than the non-Aboriginal population were not assessed, whereas in Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Yukon there was no difference between the two populations.
The preceding results constitute only an initial glimpse at the skill levels of Aboriginal peoples in the three domains measured. It is important to remember that PIAAC provides insight into these skills at an unprecedented level of detail. Considerable further analysis is required to fully understand the relationship between skills and socio-demographic characteristics such as age, educational attainment, and mother tongue. In the case of educational attainment, for example, while the context and circumstances may vary, preliminary results suggest that differences in proficiency between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations are all but eliminated at higher levels of education. This analysis will be undertaken in future reports to provide a more precise picture of the proficiencies of different Aboriginal groups across the country.
Proficiency of immigrants to Canada
Canada is a multicultural society with a large number of immigrants: in the 2011 National Household Survey, foreign-born individualsNote 5 made up 22% of the Canadian population aged 16 to 65. In addition, this population has become more diverse over time. While historically immigrants came predominantly from European countries, in recent decades they have originated from around the world, with Asia now contributing the largest numbers. Among recent immigrants (those in Canada for 10 years or less) aged 16 to 65, 80% had a language other than English or French as mother tongue.
PIAAC provides skill information for immigrants across the country, as well as for immigrants in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec, which together account for 85% of Canada’s foreign-born population. This focus is highly detailed, since oversampling in these three provinces permitted comparisons to be made between established immigrants and recent ones.
Most immigrants have a mother tongue other than English or French. PIAAC was administered in Canada’s two official languages. The results could be influenced by their proficiency in the language chosen. However, it is important to assess immigrants’ proficiency for the three skills in English or French if they are to participate fully in a society where these two languages are the most commonly used. The 2011 NHS showed that close to 99% of Canadian workers use either one or both of these two languages in the workplace.
This section analyzes three groups: recent immigrants, established immigrants, and people born in Canada. The results are broken down for Canada as a whole, and for each of the three provinces that were oversampled.
Immigrants show lower proficiency in literacy and numeracy than the Canadian-born population
Immigrants in Canada aged 16 to 65 have lower average scores than the Canadian-born population for literacy (Chart 3.4) and for numeracy (Chart 3.5). The same holds true for immigrants in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. The results show further that there is no major difference in scores between recent and established immigrants, even though their respective socio-demographic profiles are different.
Looking at the distribution of literacy skills, in Canada as a whole there are lower proportions of recent (7%) and established (9%) immigrants scoring at Level 4 or 5 than among the Canadian-born population (16%). Immigrants in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia follow this pattern. At Level 1 or below, recent immigrants (28%) and established immigrants (26%) across Canada are more heavily represented than the Canadian-born population (13%).
Similar — but not identical — results are obtained for numeracy. At Level 4 or 5, the proportions of recent and established immigrants (9% and 10% respectively) are lower than the proportion of their Canadian-born counterparts (14%); at Level 1 or below, the proportions of recent (34%) and established (33%) immigrants are above that of the Canadian-born population (19%).
At the provincial level, in Ontario the proportion of recent and established immigrants at Level 4 or 5 falls below that of the Canadian-born population. In British Columbia only the proportion of recent immigrants at Level 4 or 5 is larger than that for the Canadian-born, while in Quebec the proportion at these levels does not differ (Chart 3.5).
PS-TRE performance differs between established and recent immigrants
For the country as a whole, a smaller proportion of recent and established immigrants (26% and 27% respectively) score at Level 2 or 3 in PS-TRE than their Canadian-born counterparts (41%). This is also the case for the three oversampled provinces.
At the other end of the proficiency scale, 45% of the Canadian-born population scores at Level 1 or below, whereas a greater proportion of Canada’s recent immigrants fall into this category (51%). There is no significant difference, however, between the Canadian-born and the established immigrants. These findings hold true for Ontario and Quebec. However, there are no significant differences between the Canadian-born and recent and established immigrants in British Columbia.
For Canada as a whole, the proportion of recent and established immigrants who were not assessed in PS‑TRE is higher than that of their Canadian-born counterparts (Chart 3.6). It is worth noting that the proportion of established immigrants who were not assessed in PS-TRE (28%) is higher than the proportion for recent immigrants (23%) for the country as a whole and for Quebec; for Ontario and British Columbia the difference is not significant.
The skills proficiency of immigrants, the differences in skill levels between immigrants and the Canadian-born population, and the differences between recent and established immigrants merit further analysis. As is the case with other populations within Canada, these differences do not yield to simple explanations. The diversity of the immigrant population, together with such factors as age, educational attainment, and language proficiency require careful examination of the data gathered by PIAAC. Further reports on these populations will undertake this examination.
Proficiency of official-language minority populations
Canada’s two official languages, English and French, are an integral part of Canada’s social, economic and cultural makeup. The distribution of official-language minority (OLM) populations in Canada varies in proportion and in population density from one province to another. According to the 2011 Census, about 80% of the Francophone population outside of Quebec aged 16 to 65 lives in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. In Ontario, about 4% of the population has French as a mother tongue, with the highest densities found through the mid-north-east portion of the province, an area with smaller population centres. In New Brunswick, approximately 32% of the population belong to the French-language community, which is more concentrated in the north and southeast. Manitoba’s Francophone minority is mostly concentrated in Winnipeg and environs, and accounts for about 4% of the population aged 16 to 65. In Quebec, about 8% of the population aged 16 to 65 has English as a mother tongue, with 74% concentrated in the Montreal metropolitan area, and smaller proportions in the Outaouais and Estrie regions.
The sample of official-language minority populations in PIAAC was selected based on mother tongue.Note 6 Additional samples of official-language minority populations were selected in the four provinces — New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba — enabling a more detailed analysis of the proficiency of these populations. Those in provinces outside Quebec have French as mother tongue; those in Quebec have English as mother tongue.
This analysis only looks at differences between people reporting English or French as a mother tongue, and who live in a minority language situation. Those who have reported both or neither are excluded from this analysis.
Official-language minority scores lower in literacy than the corresponding majority in New Brunswick but not in Quebec
In New Brunswick, Francophones have lower average literacy scores at 259 than Anglophones at 274; in Quebec, Anglophones have a higher average literacy score at 276 compared to Francophones at 271; and in Manitoba and Ontario, there is no difference between the two populations. The difference between Francophones and Anglophones is most pronounced in New Brunswick, where 15 points separate the two populations (Chart 3.7).
In New Brunswick the proportion of Francophones at Level 4 or 5 is lower (7%) than the proportion of Anglophones who score at these levels (12%), while the proportion scoring at Level 1 or below is higher, 24% for Francophones and 16% for Anglophones. In Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba, there are no significant differences between Francophones and Anglophones across all levels of proficiency.Note 7
Official-language minority and majority populations scored similarly in numeracy in Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba
In New Brunswick, Francophones have lower numeracy proficiency than Anglophones, but the 10-point difference in score is narrower than it is for literacy. Both groups show a similar distribution across proficiency levels (Chart 3.8).
In Ontario and Manitoba, Francophones and Anglophones perform similarly in numeracy. In Quebec, there is also no difference in the average numeracy score between the two groups, but there is a difference in their distributions across proficiency levels, with a higher proportion of Anglophones scoring at Level 4 or 5 (17%) than Francophones (11%).
In Manitoba and Quebec, a higher proportion of the official-language minority populations engage with ICT
A higher proportion of Anglophones score at Level 2 or 3 in PS-TRE than their Francophone counterparts in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec. In Manitoba, the official-language minority scores at the same level as the majority population in PS-TRE.
In New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario, there are no differences between the proportion of Anglophones and Francophones scoring at Level 1 or below.
The proportion of official-language minority populations who were not assessed for PS-TRE relative to their majority counterparts is larger in New Brunswick and Ontario, but smaller in Quebec and Manitoba. (Chart 3.9)
The foregoing results should be viewed in light of the different profiles that official-language minority populations present in their respective provinces. Francophone minorities, for example, are more likely than their Anglophone counterparts in the same province to have a high school certificate or less. In Quebec, on the other hand, Anglophones tend to have higher educational attainment than the Francophone majority. Furthermore, official-language minority populations tend to be older than the majority populations. When combined with differences in metropolitan and rural concentrations, as well as differences in such factors as labour market participation, these differences create a highly complex picture that requires further analysis. Future reports will delve into this picture to provide a degree of detail that is oriented to highly specific, local conditions.
- Although PIAAC provides reliable estimates for the selected populations, the variability of the 2011 Census or National Household Survey (NHS) estimates is lower than the one from surveys with much smaller sample size such as PIAAC.
- The term “aboriginal identity” refers to whether the person reported being an Aboriginal person (First Nations, Métis or Inuit).
- Further analysis will be undertaken in a forthcoming thematic report to specifically examine each of the three Aboriginal groups separately if sample size permits.
- A further 1% reported multiple Aboriginal identities, and 2% reported Aboriginal identities not included elsewhere.
- In this analysis, the foreign-born population is also referred to as the immigrant population. An immigrant is a person who is, or has ever been, a landed immigrant/permanent resident. This person has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently by immigration authorities. Some immigrants have resided in Canada for a number of years; others have arrived recently. Some immigrants are Canadian citizens; others are not.
- PIAAC also asked questions on the main home language and on the ability to speak English or French, so the first official language spoken can also be derived. This criterion is more inclusive, as it allocates the Canadian population between the country’s two main language groups, including those whose mother tongue is a language other than English or French, and who are likely to use one of these two languages in their everyday life. The kind of analysis done in this section can also be done using this criterion.
- This is true despite the differences in the average scores noted in the previous paragraph. This is because non-significant differences at each level of proficiency add up to a significant difference in score for the populations as a whole.
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