NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Back to results
ERIC Number: ED498371
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2003-Aug
Pages: 148
Abstractor: ERIC
Moving the Markers: New Perspectives on Adult Literacy Rates in Canada
Sussman, Susan B.
Movement for Canadian Literacy
This report describes a project originally intended to identify demographic patterns among adults with low literacy skills in each Canadian province. The project was carried out between March 2000 and June 2001 under the auspices of Movement for Canadian Literacy (MCL). The project was based on the assumption that demographic information about people with the lowest literacy skill levels can be used to develop more effective and efficient literacy policies and programs. The project had four main objectives: (1) Review the best available statistical data on low literacy to identify demographic patterns in low literacy amongst adults in all provinces and territories across Canada; (2) Describe and discuss the technical and conceptual issues associated with all methods of estimating population literacy rates; (3) Encourage and assist literacy stakeholders in each province and territory to identify possible implications of demographic patterns in literacy rate statistics for policies and programs in their own regions; and (4) Encourage and assist more literacy stakeholders to discuss and debate literacy rates, who uses them, the assumptions and claims that are based upon them, and when and how they are used. The report discusses when, how and why literacy advocates and decision-makers use literacy rate statistics to influence Canadian adult literacy policies and programs. Technical and conceptual issues associated methods of estimating literacy rates are discussed, including the fundamental issues of how literacy is defined: it is noted that literacy experts do not agree on a common definition or measurement tool. An overview of the methods used in this project to develop demographic profiles of low literacy using International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) literacy rate data, and a discussion of the limitations of this project are included. The selected three step statistical analysis methodology is described: (1) Cross-Tabulation of national data using specific variables; (2) Probit regression analyses; and (3) Development of estimated demographic profiles of literacy for ten provinces. Key project findings include: (1) Literacy rate statistics are used to influence the development of literacy policies and programs; (2) All existing methods used to develop literacy rate statistics have significant technical and conceptual limitations; (3) Demographic patterns found in literacy rate statistics provide information about target groups that is highly relevant for literacy-related interventions; and (4) Self-assessments of literacy skills by IALS participants provide important information about the challenges of improving literacy rates in Canada. Three areas are identified for further study: (1) Possible effects of people with special learning challenges on literacy rate statistics; (2) Possible link between the literacy demands associated with using the Internet and the needs and motivations of people with Level 2 literacy skills; and (3) Importance of each nation's demographic patterns and the possible relevance of these demographic differences to international comparisons of aggregated literacy rates. Twenty-five recommendations are made based on the review of findings and related implications: (1) Given the potential influence of literacy rate data on the development of policies and programs, alternative plausible interpretations of literacy rate data should be identified and considered before that data is used to inform policy decisions; (2) Researchers from various professional affiliations and theoretical persuasions should be involved in interpreting literacy rate data as early as possible in data analysis and policy development processes; (3) Consumers of research should be encouraged to take more time to, and be supported to reflect critically on literacy rate data and related interpretations; (4) Training for advocates, policy-makers and other interested parties in how to critically review literacy rate research should be included in initiatives to build Canada's literacy-related research capacity; (5) Costs and benefits of various approaches to developing literacy rate data, for various purposes, should be systematically assessed and compared to inform future decisions about investments in literacy rate studies; (6) Distinctions between Level 1 and Level 2 groups should be described in all presentations and policy discussions about Canada's literacy challenges; (7) Demographic differences between Level 1 and Level 2 groups should be reflected and accommodated for in literacy program outreach strategies, goals, content and schedules; (8) Impacts of low literacy on the well being of older adults should be systematically assessed; (9) Provincial and federal departments that provide services and programs for seniors should recognize low literacy among seniors as a priority concern; (10) Literacy upgrading for low-literate older workers should be linked to other kinds of services and supports designed to help older workers find and/or keep new jobs; (11) Comparative effectiveness of different strategies for helping seniors overcome problems associated with low literacy should be evaluated; (12) Improving access to literacy upgrading for older Canadians should be a priority; (13) New strategies to make important information more accessible for people with low literacy skills should be developed and implemented; (14) Distinct literacy issues of Francophones should be a policy priority; (15) An appropriate mix of literacy development and support services to meet the needs of different groups within the Allophone category should be provided; (16) Jurisdictional barriers between English or French as a Second Language (ESL and FSL) programs and literacy programs should be resolved with the goal of providing all Allophones in Canada with more timely access to more appropriate and effective language and literacy development services; (17) Allophone immigrants to Canada should be guaranteed access to adequate levels of language and literacy development and encouraged and supported to become sufficiently literate in English or French so that they can achieve their own goals and contribute to Canada to the full extent of their abilities; (18) Full range of effects of immigration on Canada's literacy rates and the composition of groups at each literacy level should be identified in future analyses of literacy rate statistics; (19) Basic skills upgrading and secondary school equivalency programs should be accessible to all adults in Canada who need them; (20) To reduce rates of low levels of adult literacy in the future, elementary and secondary school students should be encouraged and supported to stay in school for as long as possible, with additional support to help students with English or French as a second language succeed and stay in school; (21) Comparisons of literacy rates between nations should include information about the demographic compositions of those nations and of specific literacy level groups; (22) Standard setting for literacy skills should be informed by the best available empirical evidence as well as by anecdotal evidence provided by adults with literacy difficulties; (23) Research should be undertaken to identify the prevalence and distribution of people with special learning challenges in general literacy rate statistics; (24) Federal, provincial and local literacy decision-makers should act quickly on specific recommendations contained in "Literacy and Disabilities"; and (25) Research on the literacy demands associated with the use of the Internet should be carried out and findings used to inform the development of new strategies to improve literacy levels among Canadians in the Level 2 group. An appendix contains details of the probit analysis carried out in the second step of this project. (Contains 7 figures and 34 tables.)
Movement for Canadian Literacy. 300-180 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa, ON K2P 1P5, Canada. Tel: 613-563-2464; Fax: 613-563-2504; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Numerical/Quantitative Data; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Adult Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Literacy Secretariat, Ottawa (Ontario).
Authoring Institution: Movement for Canadian Literacy, Ottawa (Ontario).
Identifiers - Location: Canada
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: International Adult Literacy Survey