About Literacy and Essential Skills

Essential Skills Ontario focuses its research and policy work on the essential and evolving skills needed for adults to be successful in a rapidly-changing world. While the terminology varies – essential skills, literacy, lifelong learning, adult education, foundational skills, basic skills and more – the goal of literacy and essential skills training in Ontario and Canada is consistent: improving the skills of individuals in order to improve their quality of life at home, at work and in their community.

Essential Skills
Traditionally the term “Essential Skills” refers to a variety of skills necessary for work and life: The Office of Literacy and Essential Skills defines 9 Essential Skills. Ontario Skills Passport recognizes 14 Essential Skills. Essential Skills Ontario not only focuses on traditional basic skills, such as reading, writing and numeracy, but on all the basic but evolving skills that are essential to navigate and succeed in today’s world, including digital, problem solving, critical thinking, science, and job-specific skills.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) states that literacy is “a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.” The International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) defines literacy as “the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities at home, at work and in the community–to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

Why does essential skills training matter?
We know that skills matter for individuals because skills have an increasing impact on social participation, labour market outcomes and socio-economic factors. Skills also matter for economies because failure to ensure a good skills match has both long term consequences (skills shortages) and longer term effects on economic growth. Adults in Ontario need strong skills for a variety of reasons, including

  • to find a job – as technology advances and work changes, employers have increasingly higher skill requirements. According to Statistics Canada, the employment rate for adults with less than high school completion in 2009 was just 55%.
  • to be adaptable employees – workers need to communicate with others, be aware of safety precautions and learn new technology on the job.
  • to raise children with strong literacy skills – the skills, knowledge and attitudes of adult family members are powerful influences on children’s future skills levels and school success and promote the development of closer, stronger relationships within families
  • to keep themselves and their families healthy – Canadians with the lowest health-literacy skills are 2.5 times more likely to report being in fair or poor health as those with the highest skill levels
  • to be engaged citizens – citizens must have the skills necessary to access and act upon information in order to actively participate and initiate change in your community and the greater society
  • to participate in their communities – those who have low literacy skills tend to be less active citizens than others. They are less likely to get involved in community activities like sports, school groups, church groups, and so on.
  • to reduce crime – offenders are three times as likely as the rest of the population to have literacy problems. Improving the literacy of young people could have a significant impact on rates of adult crime.
    … and much more

See our Facts and Figures on literacy and essential skills to find out more.

The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is an international program initiated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that aims to collect information on the skills and competencies of residents from 25 different countries, including Canada. Evolving from two previous international literacy surveys – the International Adult Literacy Survey [IALS], conducted between 1994-1998 and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL), conducted between 2002 and 2006 – PIAAC will assess the level and distribution of adult skills in a consistent and coherent way across the countries. The survey collected information from adults aged 16-65 on required skills for the workplace, educational backgrounds and professional attainments, and information and communications abilities. PIAAC also included an assessment of cognitive skills to measure general literacy levels, numeracy and problem solving in technology rich environments. This information will provide evidence that hopes to assist in evaluating policy and designing more effective interventions. The survey was administered from 2011-2012 and the results will be released in early October 2013. To read more about PIAAC, please visit http://www.essentialskillsontario.ca/research/analyzing-piaac For more information about literacy and essential skills visit:
Essential Skills Ontario – Literacy and Essential Skills in Ontario 2013/14
The Office of Literacy and Essential Skills – Information, Tools, and Resources
Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
Ontario Skills Passport