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Learning a Living: First Results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2003

October 18, 200518 October 2005

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Full report available at

This report highlights the “prose”, “document”, “numeracy” and “problem-solving” skills of adults in Canada and six other countries in 2003. About 15% of Canadians scored in the lowest performance level on the prose scale, a slight improvement from 1994. Another 27% scored in Level 2. Level 3 is “considered by many experts as a suitable minimum level for coping with the increasing demands of our knowledge society and information economy”. Given this, it is disappointing that 42% of Canadians scored below this level.

These Level 1 and 2 prose results rank Canada behind Norway (where 34% of the population is in Levels 1 and 2) and Bermuda (38%) but ahead of Switzerland (52%), the United States (53%), Italy (80%) and Nuevo Leon, Mexico (89%).

The 2003 survey “found that people who use computers consistently scored higher on average on the prose literacy scale than those who [don’t]”. The report summary also indicates that there was “an apparent decline in literacy scores among young people aged 16 to 25 between 1994 and 2003”, once parents’ education was factored out of the analysis. It appears that increasing levels of parental education have not lifted literacy scores as much as might be expected. Canadians performed relatively better in prose skills (42% at Levels 1 and 2) and document skills (43%) than numeracy skills (50%) and problem-solving skills (69%).

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