The study, A Profile of Literacy Skills and Needs in Halton, investigates the literacy skills and literacy needs of the Halton population. It assists educators, business and labour, not to mention government and civil society, to understand the social and economic conditions that influence literacy in Halton.
Literacy in Canada, Ontario and Halton is important not only to the individual but also to society. Lack of literacy skills in a society creates conditions for economic, social and political exclusion. The Highlights from the Canadian Report, Reading the Future: A Portrait of Literacy in Canada states:
"Society rewards individuals who are proficient and penalizes those who are not, whether expressed in terms of employment opportunities and job success or active social, cultural and citizenship participation in society. Literacy is also important to nations, as these skills are building blocks. They enable the creation of a labour force capable of competing in a changing world - a key step to economic growth and improvement of the human condition. They are also the cornerstones of democracy and of the exchange of knowledge and information." (Statistics Canada, 1996a, p.1)
Today, adult educators no longer speak of being literate or illiterate but rather of a continuum of literacy skills. Location on that continuum affects an individual's daily interaction in the workplace and in the community. Essentially literacy skill levels speak to the varying capacities of individuals to understand and use information necessary to participate fully in modern society which increasingly requires higher communication and information processing skills (Statistics Canada, 1996a, p.1).
The factors influencing literacy are complex and are often interrelated. The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), a study conducted in 1994 in seven countries, provides information on the following three literacy domains: i) prose literacy (based on materials such as editorials, news stories, poetry and fiction), ii) document literacy (based on materials such as job applications, transportation schedules, maps, tables and graphics) and iii) quantitative literacy (numeric skills based on activities such as balancing a chequebook or figuring out a tip). The IALS data suggest that low levels of literacy skills are found in Canada particularly in Quebec and the Maritime provinces. Highlights of the report, Reading the Future: A Portrait of Literacy in Canada states:
Regional differences in literacy skills are explained by differences in accessibility to education, hence, educational attainment. Increasingly the completion of secondary school is being used as the benchmark or necessary basis for having developed a level of literacy skills. It is also a benchmark for maintaining literacy skills. It is evident that public policy and a corresponding investment in education over the decades in Canada have increased access to education, educational attainment and greater literacy skills.
Ontario's literacy levels are somewhat higher than the national average with 55.8% of the Ontario adult population having sufficient literacy skills while the national average is 52.4% for Levels 3, 4 and 5 on the IALS. However, as reported in Adult Literacy in Ontario: The International Adult Literacy Survey Results, 20.2% of Ontario's adult population do not have basic literacy skills (Level 1) while a further 24% are considered to have inadequate literacy skills (Level 2) to meet changing labour market needs (1998, p.3).
Findings of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) indicate that in Halton, approximately 20% of the adult population is at the lowest level of literacy, Literacy Level 1, for prose, document and quantitative literacy domains. When Level 1 and 2 are collapsed, you have about 50% of the population at low literacy levels. For Halton, this means a slightly higher level of low literacy than that of Canada. This does not bode well for a society that claims that an educated workforce is the basis on which its communities will succeed in the global workplace.
Younger generations have higher literacy skills than older population groups. This correlates with the literature and 1996 Census data for Halton. This pattern raises issues of employment and social integration as individuals age. Slightly more women than men are located in the lowest literacy levels in the region of Halton.
When looking at the IALS data for highest level of schooling, it demonstrates the relationship between educational attainment and literacy level. Those individuals without their secondary school diploma are clustered in Level 1 and 2, low literacy skills (about 50% of the Halton adult population). This is quite a commentary on the literacy skill level of our community members. This relationship further affects an individual's life chances as demonstrated in the strong relationships among education attainment and income and regular employment.
Public policy could direct investment toward the development of human capital to raise literacy skill levels that are necessary to create jobs in emerging sectors.
In addition, the study draws to our attention the following:
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