Overall, there is not a complete or common understanding of who might be considered an ESL literacy learner. Nor is there is systematic, detailed, and formalized knowledge about immigrants and refugees with low education and literacy in their own language in Canada. Most information about this group is very general and informal, with only small pockets of information about their demographics and experiences. Overall, we do not know what literacy skills and learning strategies people bring in their own language. We do not know the proportion of those immigrants and refugees who have high oral skills in English or French but limited literacy skills. Additionally, the particular needs of refugees with ESL literacy needs are not reflected in the literature.
In its 2007 report Creating a Bridge: A Snapshot of ESL Literacy in Ontario, the OLC reviewed what is known about newcomers to Canada and their proficiency in their first language literacy. The findings indicate that there is very little Canadian research that provides information on immigrants and refugees and their proficiency in first language literacy. The OLC research states that provincial or federal governments do not collect this information. The report notes that only broad information is available in that the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALS) found that 60% of immigrants score below Level 311 compared to 37% for those adults born in Canada. This difference remains relatively consistent for immigrants who have been here both less and more than ten years.
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11 The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) has five levels. Those adults who perform at levels 1 and 2 have low literacy skills and would find most everyday material difficult. For more information see the backgrounder on IALS by the Government of Canada from Reading the future: A portrait of Canada at http://www.nald.ca/library/research/nls/ials/ialsreps/backgrounder.pdf