Literacy Facts and Figures
See the Literacy Matters Fact Sheet and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) Fact Sheet information below or download the printable PDFs.
Be sure to check out our Decoda Literacy Library, which contains over 5,000 resources you can borrow by mail at no cost.
“Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.
Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” – UNESCO 21
Literacy in British Columbia
The latest large scale literacy survey, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), found that:
- More than 700,000 British Columbians have significant challenges with literacy. (16% of British Columbians were at Level 1 literacy or below in 2012.)
- 45% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 may have
difficulty understanding newspapers, following instruction manuals, reading health information and other daily living tasks.
- 52% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 may have
difficulty calculating interest on a car loan, using information on a graph, calculating medicine dosage and other daily living tasks.
In Canada, some groups are more likely to experience literacy challenges. They include:
- Canadians with fewer years of schooling
- Indigenous peoples
- Older Canadians
- Literacy matters for health. Canadians with stronger
literacy skills enjoy better health. Literacy skills help people find, understand and use health information.
- Literacy matters for managing personal finances.
Numeracy is a key factor in financial literacy. Literacy matters for understanding rights and responsibilities. It helps people understand what to do in legal proceedings.
- A literacy-rich home environment matters for developing young children’s literacy skills.
Having books and reading aloud at home are significant ways to support children’s long term literacy skills.
- Literacy matters for employment. Strong literacy skills
are connected to being employed.
- Literacy matters for earnings. Stronger literacy skills are associated with earning higher wages.
- Literacy matters for health and safety. Understanding
and following health and safety instructions can be critical for personal safety.
- Literacy matters for success at work. Improving literacy skills can increase efficiency and accuracy at work, and can decrease work-related stress.
- Literacy matters for adult education. People with
stronger literacy skills are more likely to participate in adult education and job related training.
In the community:
- Literacy matters for community participation. Canadians with stronger literacy skills are more likely to volunteer.
- Literacy matters for political involvement. Canadians
with higher skills are more likely to feel they can influence government.
- Research indicates that literacy skills may be an
important factor in interpersonal communication,
community participation and inclusion.
“…it is hard to identify any other single issue that can
have such a large payoff to individuals, the economy
and society” – Craig Alexander
Download the fact sheet with references:
What is PIAAC?
PIAAC is the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. It is an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) international survey that measures adult skills and competencies needed for success in work and everyday life in the information age.
In addition to assessing literacy and numeracy skills and the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments, the survey collects information on how skills are used at work, at home and in the
When was PIAAC conducted?
Canada was involved in Round 1 of PIAAC. Information was collected in Canada from November 1, 2011 to July 27, 2012. The majority of respondents completed computer-based surveys through in-home interviews. Skills in Canada: First results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) presented the initial results in October 2013.
Who was involved?
Over 27,000 adults aged 16 to 65 participated in this survey in Canada.
The PIAAC survey was conducted by Statistics Canada on behalf of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada; Employment and Social Development Canada (ESCD, formerly HRSDC); and other partners.
What does PIAAC tell us about literacy and numeracy in BC?
- Compared to other countries studied in OECD’s PIAAC survey, British Columbians performed at the average for both literacy and numeracy.
- Overall, higher levels of education are associated with higher level of skills, but results indicate that a proportion of those with higher levels of education score at the lowest level of skill and some with lower levels of education performed at the highest level of skills.
- 16% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 scored at or below Literacy Level 1 – at the lowest literacy levels.
They struggle with tasks such as: filling out a form at work, navigating a website, finding information in a list sent home from preschool , using information on a food label, and comparison shopping.
- An additional 29% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 at Literacy Level 2 can accomplish the tasks above but still have difficulty with: understanding newspapers, following instruction manuals, filling out a tax return, reading health information, reading a rental agreement, and using a library catalogue.
- Together, these levels represent 45% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 who have difficulty in accomplishing some daily living tasks due in part to limited literacy skills.
- 22% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 are at the lowest numeracy levels (at or below Numeracy Level 1). They struggle with tasks such as filling out a logbook at work, calculating mileage expenses, and reading a scale in metric and imperial.
- An additional 30% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 who can accomplish the tasks above are at Numeracy Level 2 and have difficulty interpreting and evaluating numerical information including: using the information from graphs, visualizing what dimensions would look like in a 3 dimensional shape, calculating interest on a car loan, and calculating appropriate dosage for children’s cough medicine based on child’s weight.
- These levels together are 52% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 who have difficulty in accomplishing some daily living g tasks due in part to limited numeracy skills.
Problem-Solving in Technology-Rich Environments (PSTRE)
PSTRE means “using digital technology, communication tools and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks”.
- 20% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 reported no previous computer experience or did not pass the basic computer skills test or opted out of the computer-based test.
- 13% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 are below Level 1 and have very limited computer skills, generally using one function in a familiar environment, such as basic email.
- 28% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 are at Level 1 and are able to do tasks that use widely available and familiar technology such as email and browsers to access information and assign it to categories, including sorting emails into preexisting folders and downloading music files.
- Almost 40% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 recorded scores in the two highest categories for problem-solving in technology-rich environments.> 31% are at Level 2 and are able to navigate across pages and applications, use tools available in software to solve problems, monitor progress and evaluate the information available.
Sample tasks include going online to find free job search sites and locating information on a spreadsheet using the sort function.
> 8% of British Columbians aged 16 to 65 are at Level 3 – the highest skill level of PSTRE. This involves the use of multiple applications, a large number of steps, the need to evaluate and eliminate extraneous information, and the need for monitoring and readjusting actions. A sample task is scheduling competing room reservations using a web-based system and communicating with all parties.
What doesn’t PIAAC tell us about literacy
and numeracy in BC?
PIAAC did not cover all populations in Canada. Not included in the survey are: Aboriginal people living on reserve, people under the age of 16, people over the age of 65, people living in residential care, and people who are incarcerated.
PIAAC is not a longitudinal study so it doesn’t chart individual progress. It provides a snapshot of the state of skills for a population at a particular point in time. While the level of literacy doesn’t seem to have improved for the population as a whole since 2006, this alone can not be interpreted as the lack of progress for people in literacy programs. It does indicate a continuing need for skill improvement within the population.
While literacy levels may be correlated to demographic variables, this cannot be interpreted to mean that one causes the other.
Correlation is not causation.
Comparing the distribution of skills revealed in PIAAC (2012)
to the distribution of skills in previous surveys, the 2006 International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (IALSS) and the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), is difficult as the measurements are quite different and OECD has determined that further analysis is required before conclusions are drawn.
Download the fact sheet with references: