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A Word from the National Literacy Secretariat

Reading: The Numbers Tell the Story

Did you know that people with strong literacy skills read more books, go to the library more often, watch less television, find, get and keep jobs, and tend to be better paid than those with weak skills? While these may seem obvious assumptions to some, a recent International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) now provides us with statistical evidence to support these widely held views.

In 1995, Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a groundbreaking survey which measured adult literacy levels and literacy practices among seven OECD nations, including Canada. This report, entitled Literacy, Economy and Society: Results of the First International Adult Literacy Survey, has provided valuable information about the literacy skills, practices and policies of the participating countries.

A key message from this survey is that literacy skills improve with practice and deteriorate if they are not used. Individuals must keep their literacy skills "tuned up" in just the same way as a professional musician, ballet dancer, or hockey player must practice daily to keep in peak condition. While education may provide the "raw material" for adult literacy, reading skills are like muscles which need to be maintained and strengthened through regular use. Libraries play an important role in supporting good literacy practices throughout a person's life. Overall, the survey found that adults in those countries with the highest average literacy levels also report the greatest daily use of their literacy skills at work and at home.

The literacy skills we rely upon as adults usually develop at an early age. If, as parents, as educators and as mentors, we can encourage children to develop a love of reading, they will acquire a habit which carries with it a lifetime of advantages. IALS shows that good literacy practices pay off.

For more information about the International Adult Literacy Survey, contact the National Literacy Secretariat, Human Resources Development Canada, 15 Eddy Street, Hull, Quebec K1A 1K5; telephone 819-953-5280; fax 819-953-8076; or Email

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Date Created: 2001-05-29
Date Modified: 2002-09-25

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