Facts and Research

Literacy and Numeracy in Canada is Declining and Only Action 
Will Reverse This Trend

Adequate literacy skills are defined as “the ability to understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written texts to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” by the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Literacy is measured along a continuum of competency in three broad domains: prose literacy (the ability to understand and use information from texts), document literacy (the ability to find and use information in different document formats) and quantitative literacy (the ability to apply arithmetic operations to numbers in printed material). Research shows that adults who have inadequate literacy skills are more likely to have worse health outcomes, decreased earnings potential, lower levels of civic participation and fewer life opportunities.


  • 48 per cent of adult Canadians have low literacy skills that fall below high school equivalency and affect their ability to function at work and in their personal lives. 17 per cent function at the lowest level, where individuals may, for example, be unable to read the dosage instructions on a medicine bottle. (OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies*, 2013).
  • Canada has a higher proportion of its population at the highest and lowest levels of literacy proficiency. Fourteen per cent of Canadians (compared to the OECD average of 12%) have advanced reading skills, meaning that they can undertake tasks that involve combining information across multiple long texts and coming to a conclusion. Seventeen per cent of Canadians (more than the OECD overage of 15%) score at or below the lowest proficiency level, meaning they are able to locate single pieces of information in short texts (Skills in Canada: First Results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)* – Statistics Canada, 2013).
  • Canada ranked eighth out of 15 countries evaluated by the PIAAC on the percentage of adults with adequate literacy skills. The assessment found that the percentage of adults with inadequate literacy skills (48 per cent) has increased significantly over the previous decade (OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies*, 2013).

Family Literacy

Family literacy refers to the many ways families develop and use literacy skills, from enjoying a storybook together, to playing word games, singing, writing to a relative or friend, sharing day-to-day tasks such as making a shopping list or using a recipe, and surfing the Internet.


Read the full fact sheet here.

Financial Literacy


Financial literacy is the ability to understand and discuss financial concepts and apply them to your own financial situation. It includes skills like budgeting, paying bills on time, making decisions about financial products, planning for the future and being prepared in the event of a setback or emergency.


Read the full fact sheet here.

Workplace Literacy


Workplace literacy refers to the fundamental skills employees need to have in order to fulfil their work functions and manage the demands of their jobs in a healthy, productive way. These skills include both essential skills and employability or soft skills. Increasing workplace literacy skills training lays the foundation for healthy, confident, productive workers who are able to grow with their industry, adapt to technological and workforce changes and transition through all phases of their employment.


Read the full fact sheet here.

Health Literacy


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health literacy as "the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions." Health literacy refers to the combination of skills and knowledge that a person needs to possess in order to access, understand and apply information relating to his or her health effectively and consistently.


Read the full fact sheet here.
*The 2013 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies surveyed adults between the ages of 16 and 65 not residing in institutions or on Aboriginal reserves. It also excludes families of members of the Armed Forces living on military bases as well as residents of some sparsely populated areas.

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