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This report presents the results of the 2003 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) that measured the proficiencies in literacy, numeracy and problem solving of the Canadian population. It shows the skills distributions of the population of each of the ten provinces and three territories and of specific subpopulations, such as immigrants, Aboriginal peoples and minority language groups. The report also analyses the relationships between socio-demographic characteristics, such as age, education, type of work and income, and performance in literacy, numeracy and problem solving.

  • The average proficiency scores of the adult population aged 16 and over in the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are above the Canadian averages across all four domains measured in the IALSS 2003 while those of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut are below.

  • Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island have average scores that are not statistically different than the Canadian averages. In Quebec, the average scores for the two literacy domains are below the national averages while for the numeracy and problem solving domains there is no difference.

  • Nationally, 48 percent of the adult population - 12 million Canadians aged 16 and over- perform below Level 3 on the prose and document literacy scales (about 9 million or 42 percent of Canadians aged 16 to 65). Level 3 proficiency is considered to be the "desired level" of competence for coping with the increasing skill demands of the emerging knowledge and information economy.

  • At 55%, the proportion of the Canadian population aged 16 and over with numeracy scores below Level 3 was even more pronounced.

  • Overall, there has been little change in literacy performance between 1994 and 2003.

  • The established patterns of literacy proficiency continue to prevail, with higher performance among the young and the educated.

  • In New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, Francophones have lower average prose literacy scores than Anglophones.

  • In part a reflection of differing levels of formal education and use of a mother tongue other than English or French, the literacy performance of the Aboriginal populations surveyed is lower than that of the total Canadian population.

  • The proportion of immigrants whose mother tongue is neither English nor French at Level 1 on the prose literacy scale is about twice that of immigrants with a mother tongue of English or French and over three times that of the Canadian-born population.

  • Proficiency of Canadians, aged 16 to 65, in literacy, numeracy and problem solving is clearly linked to their labour market outcomes. The average proficiency scores of those employed are higher than those who are either unemployed or not in the labour force.

  • Respondents reporting poor health score lower on the document literacy scale compared with those reporting fair, good or excellent health. Although the nature of this relationship needs to be explored further, the evidence suggests that health issues and literacy issues intersect.

  • Higher levels of prose literacy are associated with higher engagement in various community activities. Literacy may be a key factor in building a socially engaged community, while such a community in turn may be more likely to develop a literacy rich environment to sustain and improve its literacy base.

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Date modified: 2005-11-30 Important Notices
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