Canada’s high immigrant population impacts literacy survey scores, report says

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TORONTO — Canada’s average showing in an international survey of adult literacy doesn’t paint the full picture of where the country stands due to its high proportion of immigrants, according to a new report.

The report from the C.D. Howe Institute noted that Canadian immigrants do well compared to their counterparts in other countries. However, the report says that Canada’s overall standing was impacted because its immigrant population is higher than other nations.

C.D. Howe analyzed a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that measured the performance of adults in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving on computers in 24 countries.

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Results of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies were released in October 2013. In the survey, Canada placed at the international average in literacy and slightly higher in problem-solving. The country was below the international average in numeracy.

The institute said while the results weren’t “unequivocally bad,” they “seemed disappointing” considering rankings of high school student assessments and educational attainment are typically high.

A closer look at the survey findings revealed that Canada places above the international average when the literacy scores of its immigrant and non-immigrant populations are considered separately.

The Howe report noted that Canada ranked sixth in literacy scores of immigrants and seventh among non-immigrants, but when the two scores were combined Canada ended up 11th overall.

“While they are behind adults that are born in Canada, that gap is lower in Canada than it is in many other countries,” said report author Andrew Parkin. “So Canada does quite well in ensuring that everyone has a good basis of skills.”

Parkin said when the survey results were initially released, there was discussion about colleges and universities not being as effective as they should be. A deeper analysis of the findings shows that “that’s not where the issue is.”

“The graduates of our education system have scores that are above average, but there are Canadians who are struggling more.


“Those are Canadians that have lower levels of education. In many cases, they’re older Canadians. And in some Canadian they’re immigrants, particularly those who don’t have English or French as a first language.

“There definitely are some groups of Canadians whose scores in a test like this are below average and that’s where we need to focus our efforts.”

— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter

Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press

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