International Report Shows Canadians are Adapting to the Digital Skills Era

TORONTO, October 8, 2013 – A major international study released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that Canadians are increasingly embracing information and communications technologies (ICT) and are well positioned for the society and economy of the 21st century.


The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is OECD's first-ever international study of skills needed for today's world. PIAAC measures skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE) among adults between the ages of 16 and 65, in 24 countries and sub-national regions. In Canada, more than 27,000 people were surveyed to allow findings at both the pan-Canadian and provincial and territorial levels as well as among off-reserve Aboriginal peoples, immigrants, and official-language minorities. PIAAC was sponsored in Canada by provincial and territorial ministries and departments responsible for education, under the aegis of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), and other partners. The survey was administered in Canada by Statistics Canada. As well as the OECD report, a companion pan-Canadian report is being released today.


“As the pace of technological change quickens, it is very encouraging to know that Canadians are engaging with information and communications technologies, and that we are among those most able to manage information and solve problems in a digital environment,” said the Honourable Jeff Johnson, Chair of CMEC and Minister of Education for Alberta. “This is a clear global advantage at a time when the high-tech environment is becoming an ever more integral part of our everyday world.”


The results show that Canadians are more likely than the OECD average to have higher levels of proficiency in the new category of “problem solving in technology-rich environments.” Canada, along with only six other countries, scores above the OECD average in terms of the per cent of its population that can complete tasks which involve solving multi-step problems in computer environments using different applications. “It is rewarding to know that our education and training systems are preparing Canadians to be globally competitive,” said the minister.


Moreover, the proportion of Canadians that could complete the computer-based assessment is higher than that of most other countries in the study: eight in 10 Canadian participants used a computer to complete PIAAC. This places Canada in the top tier of participating countries.

Literacy and numeracy in Canada


In literacy, Canada scored at the OECD average along with countries such as Korea, England/Northern Ireland, and the Czech Republic, and ahead of Germany, Denmark, and the USA. “I'm very pleased with our results in literacy, “said Minister Johnson. “But we can always do better.”


Canada achieved this level of proficiency while having one of the most diverse populations in the study. Of the 24 participating countries, Canada has the second-largest proportion of immigrants, and the largest percentage of population whose mother tongue is different from the official languages of the assessment. While there is a gap between the literacy scores of immigrants and non-immigrants in Canada, this gap is narrower than the OECD average, and Canadian immigrants scored above the OECD average. In fact, Canada is one of only a few countries whose immigrant population is both proportionately larger than average and more proficient than average.


In numeracy, Canada's average score was slightly below the OECD average, suggesting that this is one area that could be targeted by policy makers for improvement.


“While Canada performs well when it comes to the crucial emerging area of digital skills, we must keep in mind that literacy and numeracy are equally important foundational skills for the knowledge economy,” noted Minister Johnson. “Canada's results in numeracy are a particular focus for ministers of education. At our recent CMEC meeting in July, we examined the issue of the teaching and learning of mathematics. Over the coming months, ministers will continue to work across the country on efforts to improve numeracy and literacy in provincial and territorial education and skills training systems.”


The education and skills connection


PIAAC results suggest a strong positive correlation between educational attainment and skills proficiency across most participating countries, including Canada. In particular, those with a university degree score higher on each of the three skills domains. The proficiency levels of Canadians with a bachelor's degree or higher are on a par with those of many of their counterparts in OECD countries.


Moreover, the difference in literacy and numeracy skills between younger and older Canadians is less pronounced for those with a postsecondary education, suggesting that those with a postsecondary education have more opportunities to put their skills to use and upgrade their skills as they age.


The importance of education is also made evident by the preliminary results for Aboriginal peoples living off-reserve in Canada. While, overall, Aboriginal Canadians do not score as high as non-Aboriginal Canadians in literacy, numeracy, or problem solving in technology-rich environments, initial analysis suggests that there is very little difference in proficiency between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians who have achieved similar levels of education. This suggests that continuing efforts to ensure Aboriginal students' access and participation in education are key to eliminating skills gaps.


The Canadian labour force


The study shows that the proficiency levels of Canadians in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments translate into an advantage for Canada's labour force and economy. For instance, the proportion of the Canadian labour force that has higher levels of proficiency in problem solving technology-rich environments is higher than the OECD average. At the same time, Canadians with higher proficiency in literacy are more likely than the OECD average to be employed.


While many of the benefits associated with skills proficiency are economic, the OECD study also highlights benefits in other areas. Individuals with higher levels of literacy and numeracy are more likely to be in better health, have higher levels of trust, and are more likely to participate in civic life.


With the growing participation in PIAAC expected to reach 35 countries by 2014, today's release is only a first look at the wealth of information being collected by PIAAC. OECD and Canada's PIAAC partners will be analyzing the data from the survey and issuing other reports to inform government policy and provide more information on skills to the general public.


Ministers of education thank the over 27,000 Canadians who took part in PIAAC.



About CMEC

Founded in 1967, CMEC is the collective voice of Canada's ministers of education. It provides leadership in education at the pan-Canadian and international levels and contributes to the exercise of the exclusive jurisdiction of provinces and territories over education. For more information, visit us at


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Colin Bailey
Director, Communications
Cell: 416-777-4879
Tel.: 416-962-8100, ext. 259
Twitter: @CCMEC