Levels of literacy

For example, the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) defines literacy in terms of proficiency levels of the use of information to function in society and in the economy. Literacy is defined as a particular capacity and mode of behaviour, the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community - to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential (OECD/Statistics Canada, 2000:12).

In IALS literacy is measured operationally in terms of the three domains: prose literacy, document literacy and quantitative literacy.

Example 5: Levels of literacy

Five levels of literacy are defined:

  • Level 1 indicates persons with very poor skills, where the individual may, for example, be unable to determine the correct amount of medicine to give a child from information printed on the package.
  • Level 2 respondents can deal only with material that is simple, clearly laid out, and in which the tasks involved are not too complex. It denotes a weak level of skills, but more hidden than Level 1. It identifies people who can read, but test poorly. They may have developed coping skills to manage everyday literacy demands, but their low level of proficiency makes it difficult for them to face novel demands, such as learning new job skills.
  • Level 3 is considered a suitable minimum for coping with the demands of everyday life and work in a complex, advanced society. It denotes roughly the skill level required for successful secondary school completion and college entry. Like higher levels, it requires the ability to integrate several sources of information and solve more complex problems.
  • Level 4 and level 5 describe respondents who demonstrate command of higher-order information processing skills.
(OECD/Statistics Canada, 2000:12).

Dramatically, however, according to the report, in all the countries and regions surveyed, at least one of every four adults fails to reach minimum literacy levels for coping with everyday life and work in advanced societies.

Several observers have expressed concern that putting two fuzzy terms together does not make the overall concept clearer. Others assert that it does not matter what you call or define it, as long as it gets done.

However, a leading Australian information literacy promoter, Alan Bundy, notes:

"The more that librarians and their associations can agree on the terminology, definition, standards for, assessment of, and importance of information literacy at a local, national and global level, the greater will be the prospect of their success in elevating the issue over the next 25 years to one of universal concern and better educational and library resourcing".(Bundy, 2002).


Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License

Sirje Virkus, Tallinn University, 2009