|B.||The Current Status of Literacy in Canada|
The most recent information about literacy in Canada comes from the IALS survey, carried out in Canada and in a number of other countries in 1994-95. Statistics Canada, in cooperation with the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), Human Resources Development Canada, was responsible for coordination of the survey in Canada and preparation of reports describing the findings.
IALS determined literacy skills by using real examples drawn from everyday life of varying complexity, for example presenting a copy of an actual medicine label, a bus schedule, and various examples of instructions, forms and charts (e.g. a weather chart from a newspaper) one encounters in real life.
About 22 percent of adult Canadians fall into the lowest level of literacy(2). For example, they are unable to look at a medicine label and determine the correct amount of medicine to give to a child. Individuals at this level are limited in their ability to deal with much of the written material they would encounter in everyday life.
A further 26 percent are at Level 2. Individuals at this level can read. But they can only deal with material that is simple, clearly laid out, and in familiar contexts. They would have difficulty understanding information which is more complex or in a context different from what they are familiar with.
Thus nearly half of Canadians have difficulty with reading materials encountered in everyday life. They avoid reading except for materials which are relatively simple and familiar to them.
The IALS results indicate a close relationship between education and literacy. In general, the higher the level of educational attainment, the higher the literacy level. But as the IALS Canadian report(3) indicates: The connection between educational attainment and literacy levels, while strong, is not exclusive. Many individuals one third of the population in fact do not fit the general pattern.
This means that for policy, planning and research purposes, level of education can be used as a proxy for literacy, as in some of the evidence referred to in the following sections of this paper. But with respect to individuals, their actual literacy may be greater or less than their level of education might suggest.
2 Figures cited are for prose literacy the ability to understand and to use information from texts. IALS also considered document literacy (use of information from documents such as job applications) and quantitative literacy (use of arithmetic, for example in completing an order form). Findings for the three types of literacy are very similar.
3 Reading the Future: A Portrait of Literacy in Canada. Statistics Canada and HRDC, NLS. 1996.
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