ETS Policy Notes -- International Adult Literacy

ETS Policy Information Center
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Adult literacy comparative analysis economic factors educational policy employment patterns foreign countries income international education international studies labor force outcomes of education socioeconomic status


This issue of ETS Policy Notes (Volume 7, No. 1) discusses the conduct and findings of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). The IALS was not intended to rank literacy skills across countries, but was intended to make the exploration of differences across countries possible. Participating were: (1) Canada; (2) Germany; (3) the Netherlands; (4) Poland; (5) Sweden; (6) French-speaking Switzerland; (7) German-speaking Switzerland; and (8) the United States. In all participating countries, employment was positively related to literacy, and in all cases there was a clear and direct effect of literacy on wages and income. Industries that have grown in the last 20 years are those in which the incumbents had the highest literacy scores. In spite of these similarities, the relationship between education and literacy was not the same in every country or from scale to scale, making direct comparisons impossible. Differences in literacy practices reflected the countries' different occupational distributions. In countries where the average literacy scores were highest, the greatest use of literacy-related tasks was reported. The information provided by the IALS has made a start in demonstrating the strong association between literacy and life chances while indicating that literacy is not synonymous with educational attainment. ED 403 315

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