Literacy and the Economy

Literacy and the Economy

Literacy and the Economy

Date posted: June 4, 2019

In WHAT NOW? | Opportunity Lost, a new policy brief from the Canada West Foundation, Janet Lane and Scott Murray review some recent analysis of international and Canadian literacy levels (including PIAAC data) and economic performance. The new research confirms that literacy skills are an important determinant of economic growth. Two of the main findings are:

  1. As increased literacy skills are put to work, productivity growth increases on average by five per cent and GDP per capita by three per cent for every one per cent rise in average literacy scores.
  2. There is a bigger economic return to boosting the skills of people with lower literacy levels than those with higher levels.

This brief then makes recommendations on how Canada could achieve an increase in average literacy skills.

A series of studies funded through the Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program – a program of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) – has shown that high-quality instruction, delivered by well-trained instructors, using curriculum designed to meet the needs of individual employees and employers and using authentic workplace materials, can increase the literacy skills of employees by up to an average of 24 points. It has also yielded a 23 per cent direct return on investment to employers in the first year alone.

WHAT NOW? | Opportunity Lost is a good outline of the research findings that can be used to support investment in workplace and workforce literacy. It updates the Tremblay and Coulombe research using IALS data. For a more detailed look at the original research using PIAAC data, read:

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