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Causes of illiteracy

Surveys and statistics

“Individuals’ knowledge and skills are a significant component of their individual well-being, but also an essential condition for a society’s development.”
PAGEAU, D. L’information continue Express, Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports (MELS), 2005. 

Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 

An initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) led to the publication of a highly detailed survey of skills in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE) among adults aged 16–65, in 24 countries and sub-national regions, including all of Canada’s provinces and territories. These core skills form the basis for cultivating other, higher-level skills necessary to functioning at home, school, and work, and in the community. Of the 27,000 Canadians aged 16–65 who took part, 5,900 were Quebecers. 

The survey published in October 2013 divided respondents into six levels of literacy, the first identifying adults who did not reach Level 1 (L-1). 

The findings show that in Quebec, 4.1% of adults do not reach Level 1, and 14.9% are at Level 1, for a total of 19%; 34.3% are ranked at Level 2, while 46.8% place at Levels 3, 4 and 5. 

Initial observations 

  • In Quebec, one person in five, or 19% of the population, is likely to find himself in a situation where he has great or very great difficulty reading and using the written word. In 2003, 16% of respondents were at that level.
  • One person in three (34.3%) in Quebec is likely to find himself in a situation where his ability to read will be in proportion to the presence of facilitating conditions or non-complex written environments. In 2003, 32.9% of respondents were at that level.
  • Fewer than one person in two (46.8%) in Quebec is likely to demonstrate a command of literacy skills enabling them to read with a view to learning, comprehending, acting or intervening completely autonomously. In 2003, 51.1% of respondents were at that level. 

Statistics Canada and the Institut de la statistique du Québec will be publishing statistical reports in the next few months that will help present a detailed picture of the findings for the population of Canada and Quebec. These reports will be added as they are released.

Source: Des clés pour comprendre la littératie en 2014 : comment parvenir à une meilleure interprétation des résultats du PEICA en matière de littératie (Keys to understanding literacy in 2014: How to achieve a better interpretation of the findings of the IALSS with respect to literacy), Institut de coopération pour l’éducation des adultes, Hervé Dignard, June 2014.

International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey(IALSS) of 2003 

Statistics Canada issued on November 30, 2005 the Canadian report on the International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (IALSS, 2003), conducted almost 10 years after the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), the very first such comparative international survey on adult literacy. 

The main observation arising from these recent findings is that general literacy skills showed little change from 1994 to 2003. In Canada, 15% of the population aged 16­–65 have very low prose literacy (Level 1 on a scale of 5), compared with 17% in 1994. This proportion rose to 42% if Level 2 (“poor skills”) was added. Skill Level 3 was identified as the “desired” threshold for functioning easily in a society whose growing requirements called for greater adaptability. 

In Quebec, a significant proportion of the population did not reach Level 3, although an improvement in literacy skills was noted since 10 years before. Some 16% of adults aged 16–65 stood on the lowest level of the prose literacy scale (Level 1), and close to one Quebecer in two in that age group did not have the skills necessary to use information so as to function fully in society and the economy (Levels 1 and 2). 

According to the findings of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), 49% of Quebecers aged 16–65 had reading difficulties. Of these, 800,000 adults were illiterate.

If you would like further information concerning the findings of the Canadian report on the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey, visit the Statistics Canada Web site or the Institut de la statistique du Québec site.