1136.0 - Directory of Education and Training Statistics, 2007  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/07/2007   
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Contents >> Statistical Collections >> Education and Training - General >> Survey of Aspects of Literacy

Survey of Aspects of Literacy


National Centre for Education and Training Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra
Telephone (02) 6252 6175


The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was the world’s first internationally comparable survey of adult literacy skills. It was undertaken with three rounds of data collection between 1994 and 1998. In 1996 Australia conducted the Survey of Aspects of Literacy (SAL), as part of the IALS. This survey formed the first large-scale national profile of Australians’ literacy skills, that is, those skills required to use printed material found at work, at home and in the community. There were two components to the survey. The first component was an interview in which background socio-demographic information was collected, grouped into the following main areas: health, education, labour force participation, income, language, literacy activities performed at home and at work, and parents’ education and occupation. The second component was an objective assessment of some literacy skills using examples of commonplace tasks of varying difficulty. The 1996 SAL assessed three different types of literacy:

  • prose literacy - the ability to understand and use information from various kinds of prose texts, including texts from newspapers, magazines and brochures;
  • document literacy - the ability to locate and use information contained in materials such as tables, schedules, charts, graphs and maps; and
  • quantitative literacy - the ability to perform arithmetic operations using numbers contained in printed texts or documents.


The survey covered all persons aged 15-74 years who were usual residents of private dwellings, excluding overseas residents in Australia; certain diplomatic personnel of overseas governments; and members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants) stationed in Australia. It was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, but excluded persons living in certain remote and sparsely settled parts of Australia.

Reference Period

The survey was conducted between May and July 1996.

Frequency of Collection

This is an irregular collection. A second survey of this type, the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey (ALLS) was conducted in Australia in late 2006. The ALLS will allow comparison of 2006 literacy skill levels to those reported in 1996, and comparison of Australians' literacy skills with those of other countries.

Method of Collection

Background information was collected from a randomly selected member of each selected household by specially trained ABS interviewers. Respondents were then asked to complete a set of literacy-related tasks. The objective assessment of literacy skills was based on a methodology developed by the United States’ Educational Testing Service and Statistics Canada which was adapted for use in several countries.


Release schedule

The results of the first component of the 1996 SAL were released in May 1997. The results of the objective assessment were released in September 1997.

The first results of the 2006 ALLS are expected in late 2007.


Survey of Aspects of Literacy, 1996
Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Skill Levels, Australia, 1996 (ABS cat. no. 4228.0)
Aspects of Literacy: Profiles and Perceptions, Australia, 1996 (ABS cat. no. 4226.0)

Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2006
Adult Literacy and Life Skills, Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 4233.0) (expected release late 2007)


Data are available for Australia, state and territory, and capital city/balance of state (excluding territories).

Data Service

Customised tables are available on request (a charged service), and a set of state/territory tables. A Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF) is available.

Other information

In 2006 the ALLS assessed four different types of skills in related domains. Only two scales - prose and document literacy - have been defined and measured in the same manner as the 1996 SAL, and are therefore directly comparable. While the 2006 ALLS collected some items consistent with the 1996 SAL, a variety of new topics such as use of technologies, social capital and well being have been introduced. The four scales defined in the 2006 ALLS are:
  • Prose literacy – the knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information from texts including editorials, news stories, brochures and instruction manuals.
  • Document literacy – the knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and charts.
  • Numeracy – the knowledge and skills required to effectively manage the mathematical demands of diverse situations. This definition is broader than in 1996, and involves more than the application of arithmetical skills to information embedded in printed materials, which was the 1996 focus. Numeracy in 2006, is not directly comparable with the quantitative scale used in 1996.
  • Problem solving – Problem solving involves goal-directed thinking and action in situations for which no routine solution procedure is available. The problem solver has a more or less well defined goal, but does not immediately know how to reach it. The incongruence of goals and admissible operators constitutes a problem. The understanding of the problem situation and its step-by-step transformation, based on planning and reasoning, constitute the process of problem solving. Problem solving is a new domain in 2006.


State or territory of usual residence
Area of usual residence
Marital status
Relationship in household
Country of birth
Year of arrival in Australia

Labour force participation, Employment activities

Labour force status
Status in employment in current job
Occupation of last full-time job
Industry of last full-time job
Hours (usually) worked
Duration and other characteristics of unemployment and underemployment

Participation in education and training

Number of schools attended before the age of 15 years
Educational attainment before migration
Field of study of highest qualification obtained before migration
Whether finished schooling in Australia
Educational attainment in Australia
Level of educational attainment
Level of parents' educational attainment
Field of study of highest qualification obtained
Main reason left school early
Years of formal education completed
Whether received any training or education in the last 12 months
Number of courses or workshops attended in the last 12 months
For first, second and third courses:
  • Educational qualification towards which the course is being taken
  • Extent to which skills gained from course used in main job
  • Location and provider of course
  • Who paid for course
  • How was course presented
  • Who suggested course
  • Number of weeks training course lasted
  • Number of hours per day attended training course
  • Total hours spent on course

Reasons for not taking recreational course in the last 12 months
Reasons for not taking job-related training course in the last 12 months

Language and literacy

Language first spoken
Self-perception of current reading and writing skills in language first spoken
Age learned to read, write and speak English
Self-perception of current English speaking skills
Age attended English language classes
Length of English language classes
Provider of English language classes
Languages spoken well enough to converse in
Language usually spoken at home
Language in which most at ease
Reasons for not taking training to improve English reading and writing skills
Frequency of using or reading written material in job
Frequency of writing or filling in forms etc. in job
Frequency of using mathematics or arithmetic in job
Self-assessment of English reading, writing and mathematics skills against those required in job held
Self-perception of extent to which English reading, writing and mathematics skills limit jobs
Frequency of general reading, writing, social and cultural events
Kinds of reading material in the home
How often help needed from others to read/write in English
Self-perception of English reading, writing and mathematics skills needed for daily life
Satisfaction with English reading and writing skills
Assessed skill level - prose scale
Assessed skill level - document scale
Assessed skill level - quantitative scale


Occupation of parents' main job
Personal income from wages, salary or self-employment
Personal income from all sources
Types of income from government sources

Historical Data

This survey was conducted for the first time in 1996. Data for this survey will become historical upon release of data from the 2006 ALLS.

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