International survey shows Canada above average in literacy, falling behind in numeracy

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released the findings from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) – the most comprehensive survey of skills ever undertaken amongst OECD countries. The survey shows that while Canada is well positioned to take advantage of a new digital and more technologically-advanced economy, we fall below the average compared to other OECD countries in numeracy scores.

In Canada, over 27,000 adults aged 16 to 65 participated in the survey. In literacy scores, these adults scored around the average of the 33 participating countries, yet scored significantly below the average numeracy score. Furthermore, the survey indicates that Canada has a high skills divide with significant populations falling at either the lowest or the highest levels in literacy and numeracy scores.

The survey also found a higher proportion of Canadians engage with information and computer technologies than the OECD average. Canadian adults, in particular, are adept at problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE): 37% of the adult population scored at the highest level in PS-TRE, above the average of participating countries. PS-TRE measures the abilities of adults to use digital technology and communications tools to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks. Overall, Canada had the second-largest proportion of adults aged 16-65 who performed at the highest level in PS-TRE.

In Ontario specifically, adults scored above average in all the PIAAC domains compared to other provinces, including numeracy, literacy and PS-TRE.

However, younger Canadian adult populations between the ages of 16-24 scored significantly below the average in literacy and numeracy domains when compared to other OECD countries. The survey also highlighted youth who are neither in employment nor in education and training (NEETS) and the negative effects on skills. This group of young people in Canada are six times more likely to score low literacy levels than those in education or work.

“PIAAC provides insights into what skills Canadians have and how they are being used at work and home,” says Lesley Brown, Executive Director of Essential Skills Ontario. “Today Canadians must have solid problem solving and generic skills to help them adapt to a labour market being driven by emerging technology. The data emanating from the survey will help inform future policy and practice to ensure Canadians are equipped for the future.”

Essential Skills Ontario will continue to analyze PIAAC survey results over the course of the coming months to fully understand the results and their implications for education and training in Canada. Attached below is our current summary of the international results.

For more information contact:
Allison Mullin, Manager of Communications and Marketing
Essential Skills Ontario
(416) 963-5787 Ext. 28

News Date: 
Tuesday, October 8, 2013