Learning a Living

Learning a Living

First Results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey You or your institution have access to this content

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OECD, Statistics Canada
11 May 2005
9789264010390 (PDF) ;9789264010383(print)

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Based on the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey conducted in Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Mexico (Nuevo Leon), Norway, and the United States of America in 2003 and 2004, this book presents an initial set of findings that shed new light on the twin processes of skill gain and loss.

The book opens with an explanation of the goals and conceptual approach of the survey and comparative profiles of adult skills in participating countries. It then looks at the relationship between education and skills and adult learning and skills. Additional chapters compare the employability of younger and older populations in participating countries, skills and economic outcomes, skills and information and communications technologies, skills and immigration, the effects of parental education on skills, and the effect of skills on health.
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  • Introduction
    The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL) is a large-scale co-operative effort undertaken by governments, national statistics agencies, research institutions and multi-lateral agencies. The development and management of the study were co-ordinated by Statistics Canada and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in collaboration with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the United States Department of Education, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC) and the Institute for Statistics (UIS) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)....
  • The Why, What and How of the ALL Survey
    The first and most important goal of the study is to shed light on the twin processes of skill gain and loss in adult populations. For the countries for which repeat measures are available, research can explore changes that may have occurred in the level and distribution of skills since the IALS data were collected; and identify concomitant changes in population groups whose level of prose and document skills place them at a relative disadvantage in the labour market and other life contexts....
  • Comparative Profiles of Adult Skills
    This chapter presents a comparative perspective on the levels and distributions of adult skills in four domains – prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem solving – for the countries that collected data in the first round of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL). The first part of the analysis displays the basic country distributions for each skill domain. The second tracks changes in the distributions of prose and document literacy skills over time for the countries that participated in both ALL and its predecessor, the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) – Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. Finally, the analysis focuses on how skill distributions interact with key demographic variables such as age and gender.
  • Education and Skills
    This chapter examines the relationship between individual educational experiences and observed measures of skill. First, evidence of a strong positive association between skills and educational attainment is established. Both theory and evidence suggest that education plays a key role in the formation of the skills measured in ALL, but the imperfect association between education and skills also suggests that other factors are implicated in the development of skills over the lifespan. Second, the analysis focuses on comparing the skills of younger adults with varying experiences of upper secondary education. In particular, the skills of early school leavers are considered (youth and young adults aged 16 to 30 who have not completed upper secondary education and have not been in school for at least one year). Finally, the relationships between individual skills and additional years and levels of post secondary schooling are studied in detail.
  • Skills and Adult Learning
    This chapter embraces an expanded understanding of adult learning by examining participation in organised forms of adult education and training as well as engagement in informal learning. Findings on adult education and training participation for ALL are presented and compared, where possible, to the results from IALS. Thus one can assess whether the increased importance given to adult learning by policy makers, the business community and other sectors of society has translated into increased readiness by adults to actively engage in various forms of learning. This is followed by an analysis of some key characteristics of participating adults, and whether these have changed in the intervening years. This permits an assessment of whether inequalities in adult learning patterns are shifting. Next, patterns of informal learning are compared, and in particular, an analysis of active versus passive modes of informal learning is presented. Finally, the role of employers, governments and individuals in financially supporting adult learning is considered.
  • Skills and the Labour Force
    This chapter focuses on the skills of labour force participants. First, the difference in workers’ skills between the top and bottom 25 per cent of performers is compared. This allows for a comparative assessment of the skills supplied in the labour market. Second, the employability of working-age adults is studied. This is done by comparing the likelihood of experiencing labour force inactivity and unemployment over the cycle of one year for persons who are at low and medium to high levels of skill. Finally, the employability analysis is extended to also include younger and older workers.
  • Skills and the Nature of the Workplace
    This chapter explores the relationship between different types of jobs, job tasks, and skills. First, the skill distributions of the workforce in technology- and knowledge-intensive industries are compared to other sectors. Similarly, the skills of workers in knowledge-intensive occupations are compared to those in other types of occupations. Second, the relationships between literacy and numeracy engagement at work and the skills measured by ALL are considered. Third, it is shown that the extent of engagement in literacy and numeracy activities is strongly linked to the types of occupations in which adults are employed. The last section looks at the match and mismatch between the skills of workers and the extent to which they engage in job tasks that require those skills.
  • Skills and Economic Outcomes
    This chapter examines economic outcomes associated with differences in observed skills. First, the rewards to literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills on labour markets are studied with a structural model that specifies the joint determination of personal earnings, education and cognitive skills. Second, the likelihood of receiving social assistance transfers for individuals at different skill levels is estimated. This latter analysis adjusts for education, age, gender and household income levels. Similarly, findings on the likelihood of earning investment income for respondents at different skill levels are presented.
  • Skills and Information and Communications Technologies
    This chapter explores the relationship between skills and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) use and familiarity. The ALL survey collected information on the use of, and familiarity with ICTs, at the individual level, including a series of self-assessment questions on ICT use, perceptions of experience, and degree of comfort with ICTs. First, access rates to computers and the Internet are considered. Second, the relationship between ICT use and literacy skills is studied. This is important because it demonstrates the fundamental relationship between ICT use and other skill sets. Third, the determinants of ICT use are examined, including income, age, gender, educational attainment and occupation. Finally, outcomes associated with the use of ICTs in combination with literacy skills are explored.
  • Skills and Immigration
    This chapter compares the skill profiles of immigrant and native-born adults for the countries participating in ALL. First, the significance of immigration in OECD countries is considered. Projections forecast declining population growth and for some countries a net decrease by 2050. Second, the knowledge and skills that immigrants contribute to host countries in terms of their educational attainment are examined. Third, the extent to which educational credentials translate into useable skills of the type measured in ALL for the host country is considered. In comparing the education credentials and observed skills of immigrants, it is apparent that there is an education-skills gap among immigrants. In light of this, the potential role of native versus foreign language status in explaining the education-skills gap is considered briefly. Finally, the chapter concludes by studying some of the labour market outcomes of immigrants.
  • Parental Education and Literacy Practice in Daily Life
    This chapter examines the relationship between the skills measured in ALL and family socio-economic background as well as literacy related practices in daily life. The analysis explores the extent to which observed differences in skills can be attributed to socio-economic inequalities. This is done for three cohorts of adults, namely youth aged 16 to 25, early middle aged adults 26 to 45 and late middle aged adults 46 to 65. The three age groups differ in the relationship between skills and socio-economic background. For example, the strength of the link between family background and skills among youth has changed in some countries over time between the IALS and ALL survey periods. The analysis further shows interesting variation in the impact of engaging in literacy practices at home and at work on inequality in skill.
  • Skills and Health
    This chapter examines the relationship between skills measured in ALL and various aspects of individual health. Two latent class analyses are performed to identify groups of individuals sharing response tendencies to a set of 13 healthrelated background questions. The first analysis identifies four classes of individuals based upon questions related to general health status, as follows: excellent health, good health, fair health and poor health. The second analysis identifies four classes of individuals based upon questions related to their health status at work, as follows: no work-related limitations, physically limited at work, emotionally limited at work and physically and emotionally limited at work. These analyses are then used to explore the relationship between skills measured in ALL and health status.
  • Conclusion
    This report confirms many of the conclusions revealed through analysis of IALS data, including:
    • Larges differences in skills exist both within and between countries.
    • Most of the differences in the level and distribution of skill can be...
  • Annex A - A Construct-Centered Approach to Understanding What was Measured in the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey
  • Annex B - Literacy and Life Skills Survey
  • Annex C - Principal Participants of the Project
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