Literacy in Canada
Important research information about literacy in Canada is derived from the IALS conducted
by Statistics Canada in cooperation with the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS) in 1994-95.
The IALS developed a scale for the purpose of measuring five broad literacy levels for use
in a comparative analysis of literacy skills in twelve Organizations for Economic Co-
operation and Development (OECD) countries.
- Level 1 literacy indicates very low literacy skills, where the individual
may, for example, have difficulty identifying the correct amount of
medicine to give to a child from the label information.
- Level 2 literacy identifies people who may have adapted their lower
literacy skills to everyday life, but would have difficulty learning new job
skills requiring a higher level of literacy. They can deal only with simple
material, clearly laid out and not too complex.
- Level 3 is considered as the minimum desirable threshold in many
countries but some occupations require higher skills.
- Levels 4 and 5 show increasingly higher literacy skills requiring the
ability to integrate several sources of information or solve problems that
are more complex.2
The IALS research provides important insights into issues related to literacy. For instance,
this study found that 22% of Canadians possess level 1 literacy skills and 26% have literacy
skills consistent with level 2 (Statistics Canada and NLS, 1994:1995). The proportion of
Canadians with literacy skills at the lowest functional literacy levels is overwhelming, as
virtually half of Canadians have difficulty with reading materials encountered in everyday
life. They avoid reading except for materials that are relatively simple and familiar to them.
Perrin (1998) outlines some of the major IALS findings about literacy among Canadians:
- Literacy is a moving target. The Second IALS report indicates: “While
most people can read, the real question is whether their reading and
writing skills meet the challenge of living and working in
today‘s...society.” As the demands of society change, so do the
necessary literacy skills required to function (NLS, 1997).
- Literacy involves comprehension and under-standing, not only of the
written word, but also of the spoken word. Literacy is the ability to
understand and to be able to act upon verbal directions from health
professionals. (NLS, 1997).