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Australians' literacy skills put to the test
Almost half of Australians aged 15-74 (6.2 million people) have 'poor' or 'very poor' prose literacy skills. Another 35 per cent (4.7 million) could be expected to cope with many of the demands of daily life, but not always at a high level of proficiency. Some 17 per cent (2.3 million) could be considered to have prose literacy skills of a high order.
Similar results apply to document literacy and quantitative literacy (using numbers embedded in text).
These figures, the result of Australia's first large scale national literacy survey, are contained in the Australian Bureau of Statistics' publication Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Skill Levels, Australia, 1996 (cat. no. 4228.0) which was released today to coincide with International Literacy Day.
The publication contains objective measures of Australians' literacy skills in dealing with the literacy demands of everyday life, such as understanding the information on a medicine label, using a bus timetable, and filling in forms. Information is presented for three literacy scales - prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy. For each scale, people's skills are ranked from very poor (Level 1) through to good/very good (Level 4/5).
On all three literacy scales, some 2.6 million people aged 15 to 74 are at Level 1 (very poor literacy skills), and could be expected to face considerable difficulties in using many printed materials that are encountered in everyday life. About 3.6 million people are at Level 2 and could be expected to experience some difficulties. Level 3 is the largest category - the skills of the 4.7 million people at this level would enable them to cope with many printed materials, but not always at a high level. Some 2.3 million people are at Level 4/5, representing good to very good skills and the ability to manage the literacy demands of everyday life.
Other findings from the survey (based on the prose literacy scale) include:
Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Skill Levels, Australia, 1996 (cat. no. 4228.0) is available from ABS bookshops. The publication also contains four feature articles written by people with expertise in language and literacy. The titles of these features are:
So - How Many People Can't Read?;
The Quantitative Literacy Performance of Australians: Implications of Low Skill Levels;
Literacy, Numeracy and the Labour Market; and,
Public Policy and Literacy Research Data: Will Knowing Lead to Doing?
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