Australian Bureau of Statistics
1307.6 - Tasmanian State and Regional Indicators, Jun 2008
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 31/07/2008
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Literacy in Tasmania
Change in Literacy Skill Levels, 1996-2006
State and Territory Comparisons
Age and Sex
A high level of literacy is required in today's world, to meet the challenges of a technology and information-rich society. Greater demands than ever are being placed on our ability to understand, interpret and integrate the world around us. As such, learning is no longer confined to school classrooms. The concept of 'life-long learning' acknowledges that considerable learning also occurs in the workplace, well beyond the years of formal education. Literacy skills accumulate over many years, and it is evident that the more these skills are used, the more literate a person becomes. However, literacy skills decrease markedly with age from approximately 45 years onwards. This may be associated with the lower education levels generally attained by the older cohorts in our society, but may also be indicating that if literacy skills are not used, they will gradually decline.
Literacy skills contribute to the human capital of a community, thereby influencing economic growth. Higher levels of education and training can greatly improve an individual's employment potential and their potential to earn a higher income. As such, greater benefit may be had in improving the literacy skills of those with lower skill levels rather than extending the skills of those with higher levels in order to build a successful economic future for our state.
The 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS) collected and assessed information on the literacy skills of Australians aged 15-74 years across a range of literacy domains: prose literacy; document literacy; numeracy; and problem solving. A health literacy scale was produced as a by-product of these. Literacy skills were assessed on a scale of 1-5, with Level 1 being the lowest and Level 3 deemed to be the 'minimum required for individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy' (Statistics Canada and OECD, 2005). People who attained a score of Level 1 or 2 were considered to lack the necessary literacy skills required to meet these demands.
LITERACY IN TASMANIA
According to the 2006 ALLS, the literacy skills of Tasmanians aged 15-74 years were consistently assessed as being below the national average in all domains. Around half of Tasmanians were assessed as having adequate prose (51.0%) and document literacy skills (49.3%), compared with 53.6% and 53.2% respectively for Australia. This meant that they had sufficient prose literacy skills to understand and use information from various kinds of narrative texts, including newspapers, magazines and brochures, and sufficient document literacy skills to locate and use information contained in such formats as job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and charts.
Less than half (43.9%) of Tasmanians were assessed as having adequate numeracy skills to effectively manage and respond to the mathematical demands of diverse situations, compared with 47.4% for Australia, and around one third (36.6%) were assessed as having sufficient health literacy skills to understand and use information relating to health issues such as drugs and alcohol, disease prevention and treatment, safety and accident prevention, first aid, emergencies, and staying healthy, compared with 40.5% for Australia.
Only about a quarter (27.0%) of Tasmanians were assessed as having sufficient problem solving skills to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work, compared with 29.9% for Australia. This literacy domain assessed goal-directed thinking and action in situations for which no routine solution is available.
Younger people in Tasmania were likely to have higher literacy competency than older people. The highest proportions of people assessed at Level 3 or above in Tasmania were aged 25-34 years for all literacy scales, whilst the lowest were aged 65-74 years, indicating that older Tasmanians, particularly older females, were less likely to have the necessary skills to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work. This may be the result of older Tasmanians having lower levels of educational attainment, less access to work opportunities, and higher rates of disability (such as dementia). The 15-24 years age group had comparatively low levels of literacy compared with some of the older age groups. This was probably because many people in this age group had not yet completed their education and as yet had little work experience.
A higher proportion of females in Tasmania attained literacy scores of Level 3 or above for prose literacy (53.8%), problem solving (27.7%) and health literacy (37.2%) compared with males (48.2%, 26.2% and 36.0% respectively).
A higher proportion of males attained literacy scores of Level 3 or above for document literacy (50.5%) and numeracy (48.9%) compared with females (48.1% and 38.9% respectively).
Of all females, those aged 25-34 years attained the highest proportion of scores at Level 3 or above across all literacy domains, performing particularly strongly in prose literacy (70.7%) and document literacy (69.9%). Proficiency in all literacy domains decreased markedly with age. Less than one quarter of females aged 65-74 years had sufficient literacy skills across all domains to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work.
Literacy skills of males were most proficient between the ages of 25 and 44 years, with literacy skills decreasing from 45 years of age onwards. The proportion of males aged 65-74 years attaining scores of Level 3 or above was approximately double that of females of the same age across all literacy domains.
There was a strong relationship between the number of years of formal education completed and levels of literacy skills. Those who had completed a greater number of years of formal education achieved higher literacy scores across all scales.
Employed people had the highest proportion of people assessed with literacy skills of Level 3 or above for all literacy scales (prose 58.4%, document 58.5%, numeracy 51.5% and problem solving 34.4%). These results were consistently lower than the Australian average for each literacy scale (prose 60.0%, document 61.0%, numeracy 56.0% and problem solving 36.0%).
Unemployed people had the lowest proportion assessed at Level 3 or above for prose literacy (33.1%) and numeracy (30.2%), and were equal lowest with those not in the labour force (33.7%) for document literacy. Those not in the labour force had the lowest proportion assessed at Level 3 or above for problem solving (13.9%).
Survey results highlighted the fact that those with higher levels of literacy skill command higher incomes. The median personal gross weekly income for those who attained literacy scores at Level 4/5 on the prose scale was almost three times higher ($902) than that of people with scores at Level 1/2 ($332). Those with scores at Level 3 on the prose scale had a median income of $580. The median personal gross weekly income for Tasmania was $485 ($600 for Australia).
While Tasmania had the lowest adult literacy skills in Australia, according to the 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, improvement was evident in document literacy skill levels when compared with results of the 1996 Survey of Aspects of Literacy. Tasmania's ageing population may be in part responsible for the lower than average literacy skills due to limited educational and labour force opportunities previously available, particularly to females in the older age group, 65-74 years, and to the effects of interstate migration patterns. Younger females were revolutionising literacy skill levels for the 25-34 years age group, out-performing males in all but numeracy.
Literacy levels increased as the level of educational attainment increased. There were marked differences in skill levels across all scales between those people who had completed Year 12 or equivalent and those who had completed only Year 10 or below. This highlights the importance of improving retention rates of students in Tasmania to progress beyond Year 10. Further, those with sufficient literacy skills were more likely to be employed and earn higher incomes.
Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 4228.0)
Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey: State and Territory Tables, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 4228.0.55.004)
Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Skill Levels, Australia, 1996 (ABS cat.no. 4228.0)
Census of Population and Housing
Labour Force, Australia (ABS cat. no. 6202.0)
Labour Force, Australia, Spreadsheets (ABS cat. no. 6202.0.55.001)
Schools, Australia (ABS cat.no. 4221.0)
Statistics Canada and OECD, 2005, 'Learning a Living: First Results from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey', Ottawa and Paris
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This page last updated 30 October 2008