Thursday, November 10, 2005

New Literacy Stats Out

PUBLICATION: Montreal Gazette
DATE: 2005.11.10
BYLINE: CARLY WEEKS

Read it and weep: West leads the country in literacy: Skill levels have not improved in Canada since the last survey was carried out in 1994

Western Canadians have their eastern counterparts beat when it comes to reading.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon are the provinces with the highest literacy rates, according to a Statistics Canada survey released yesterday.

But nearly half of all Canadians age 16 and over, or about 12 million people, don't have the literacy skills to fully function in society, such as reading newspapers, instruction manuals or brochures.

New Brunswick, Nunavut and Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest percentage of residents who fail to meet basic reading comprehension requirements, the survey revealed.

"It's a phenomenally high number and most people won't even believe it," said Jim Pollock, director of communications at ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation.

Quebec was the only province to show significant variance in performance across the four areas evaluated in the survey.

In numeracy and problem solving, Quebec's average scores were about the same as the national average. For the two literacy categories, Quebec averaged below the national level.

In prose literacy, for example, only 45.4 per cent of Quebecers had a proficiency of Level 3 or higher. That compares with 52.4 per cent of all Canadians.

Level 3 is considered the degree of competence needed to cope with the increasing skill demands of the emerging knowledge and information economy.

In the numeracy category, 41.1 per cent of Quebecers achieved Level 3 or higher, compared with 44.8 per cent of all Canadians.

One of the survey's most surprising finds is that literacy levels in Canada haven't improved since the last survey in 1994. In both cases, two in five adults between 16 and 65 scored below the minimum literacy level needed to function in everyday life.

Experts had predicted that as older, more uneducated workers retired, post-secondary enrollment went up and the number of new immigrants with higher levels of education increased, so too would the country's average reading comprehension.

But that wasn't the case, and experts are at a loss to explain exactly why. Evidence does show, however, a void in terms of programs aimed at improving literacy skills of Canadians, said Jean Pignal of Statistics Canada. "It's pretty clear that's what needs to be done to move the literacy bar," he said.

More than 23,000 Canadians age 16 and over participated in the survey, conducted in 2003.

The survey seems to confirm what experts believed: If people don't read and write on a regular basis, they begin to forget how.

The survey found immigrants and aboriginal people - particularly those whose first language isn't French or English - have some of the poorest literacy skills in the country.

For instance, more than half the aboriginal population of Yukon, 69 per cent in the Northwest Territories and 88 per cent of the Inuit in Nunavut failed to meet basic reading comprehension requirements.

And 60 per cent of immigrants fell below the basic requirements, compared with 37 per cent of people born in Canada.

Paradoxically, literacy scores were highest in the Yukon, which has a high proportion of people of working age and employed as professionals compared with other parts of Canada.

Ottawa Citizen

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