1136.0 - Directory of Education and Training Statistics, 2004  
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Contents >> ABS Collections >> Education and Training >> Aspects of Literacy, Survey of

Aspects of Literacy, Survey of


Lorraine Edmunds
National Centre for Education and Training Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra
Telephone (02) 6252 7960
Facsimile (02) 6252 8013


The results of the Aspects of Literacy Survey form 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 and 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. These tasks assess 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.

The survey 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. The exclusion of these persons only had a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for individual states and territories, with the exception of the Northern Territory.



Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997, Aspects of Literacy: Profiles and Perceptions, Australia, 1996 (cat. no. 4226.0), ABS, Canberra.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997, Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Skill Levels, Australia, 1996 (cat. no. 4228.0), ABS, Canberra.

Data Service

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

Other information

Information Paper 1/95 - Survey of Aspects of Literacy, 1996 General Information
Information Paper 1/96 - Survey of Aspects of Literacy, 1996 Dissemination of Results
Information Paper 2/96 - Survey of Aspects of Literacy, 1996 List of variables available from the survey

Release schedule

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



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

Disability status

Self-perception of health
Whether has a disability
Type of disability
Whether has learning difficulties
Extent to which learning difficulty has affected reading/writing/mathematical ability

Labour force

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

Education and training

Number of schools attended before the age of 15
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


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


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.
Note: This survey was part of the International Adult Literacy Survey being coordinated by Statistics Canada, which involved many countries conducting similar surveys.


Reference Period

The survey was conducted between May and July 1996.

Frequency of Collection

This is an irregular collection. The next survey is proposed for 2006.

Historical Data

This was the first time the survey was conducted, therefore no historical data is available.



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