apple A Brief History

The nine Essential Skills were identified by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) in the mid-90s in response to the results of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS).

Decades of growing literacy awareness, and countless campaigns and conferences opened Canada’s eyes to the impact of poor literacy skills on Canadians. Results from IALS helped to further increase this awareness and proposed a likely connection between literacy levels and personal and economic potential.

The first three rounds of surveys gathered information between 1994 and 1998 to compare the level and distribution of literacy skills in a total of 23 countries, shedding light on variables that influence the development and sustainability of work, learning, and life skills. In order to define and measure literacy skills, the IALS examined three literacy domains (prose, document, and quantitative) and plotted proficiency ratings on a scale of zero to 500 points. Level 1(0-225) signifies persons with very basic literacy skills, while Levels 4 and 5 (326-500) indicate individuals with significant abilities.

Measuring Complexity Using IALS 500 Point Scale
& HRSDC Five-Point Scale
IALS 500 Point Scale


Essential Skills 5-level scale

It was concluded in the IALS survey that in a knowledge-based, global economy, a score of Level 3 is the minimum level adults need to deal with the complexities of life and work.

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