UNESCO Literacy Levels

Literacy is the ability to understand and use printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community – to achieve one’s goals and develop one’s knowledge and potential. Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society. Literacy is not restricted to reading and writing but includes a host of related skills:

  • Oral Communication
  • Working with Others
  • Computer Use
  • Continuous Learning
  • Reading Text
  • Document Use
  • Numeracy
  • Writing
  • Thinking Skills

Essential Skills

Literacy and Essential Skills are the skills people need for learning, work and life. They are used in the community and in the workplace in different forms and at different levels of complexity.

The Government of Canada has identified nine essential skills needed for the workplace. These skills are used in every job to varying degrees and at different levels of complexity. They provide the foundation for learning all other skills and enable people to evolve with their jobs and adapt to workplace change.

1 Reading

The ability to understand reading materials in the form of sentences or paragraphs. We use this skill to scan for information, skim overall meaning, evaluate what we read and integrate information from multiple sources. Jobs in community advocacy, such as social workers, use reading skills. A social worker may read clinical assessments and medical reports to learn about clients’ medical diagnoses, psychiatric conditions and behavioural problems.

2 Document use

The ability to perform tasks that involve a variety of information displays in which words, numbers, symbols and other visual characteristics are given meaning by their spatial relationship. We use this skill when we read and interpret signs, labels, lists, graphs and charts. In the hospitality industry, line cooks use their document use skills when they read and enter data on the freezer temperature-recording chart or check off items and quantities on delivery checklists.

3 Numeracy

The ability to use numbers and think in quantitative terms. We use this skill when doing numerical estimating, money math, scheduling or budgeting math and analyzing measurements or data. In the medical field, workers such as nurse aides and orderlies, use numeracy skills in their occupation. A nurse aide may plot patient temperatures on a chart to show deviations from normal ranges.

4 Writing

The ability to write text and documents; it also includes non paper-based writing such as typing on a computer. We use this skill when we organize, record, document, provide information to persuade, request information from others and justify a request. Labourers in manufacturing jobs, such as in a paper mill plant, use writing skills. They may write changes on worksheets, such as recording the substitution of materials.

5 Oral Communication

The ability to use speech to give and exchange thoughts and information. We use this skill to greet people, take messages, reassure, persuade, seek information and resolve conflicts. In the field of finance, an accountant will use oral communication to speak with customers to follow up on overdue accounts, arrange payments, answer customer enquiries and discuss disagreements about accounts.

6 Working with Others

The ability to work with other workers to carry out tasks. We use this skill when we work as a member of a team or jointly with a partner, and when we engage in supervisory or leadership activities. Working with others is a skill used often by teachers and educators. They speak with parents, psychologists, social workers and speech-language therapists to share information about students and discuss intervention plans.

7 Thinking

The ability to engage in the process of evaluating ideas or information to reach a rational decision. We use this skill when we solve problems, make decisions, think critically and plan and organize job tasks. Public relations professionals employ their thinking skills to judge the significance of topics in the media to determine whether and how to respond. They consider the risks associated with action and inaction, recent misunderstandings that could resurface, and ramifications and implications for the organization’s image.

8 Computer Use

The ability to use different kinds of computer applications and other related technical tools. We use this skill when we operate cash registers, use word processing software, send emails and create and modify spreadsheets. Trade helpers and labourers such as roofers, welders and carpenters need to use computer applications. For example, surveyor helpers use electronic field notebooks to complete topographical surveys, specifying details of sites to create computer-generated diagrams.

9 Continuous Learning

The ability to participate in an ongoing process of acquiring skills and knowledge. We use this skill when we learn as part of regular work or from co-workers and when we access training in the workplace or off-site. Retail associates and salespeople may cross-train with personnel in other stores, sections or other product lines to obtain the big picture. They may take marketing courses or attend supplier seminars to learn more about products.

Clear Language

Use of Clear Language (also known as Plain Language) can help you ensure the majority of readers are able to fully understand your message. For many people (42% of Canadian Adults), low levels of literacy may keep them from fully participating in society. Clear Language for all public communication in Burnaby is endorsed by the Burnaby Inter Agency Council (BIAC).

Clear language is an approach to communication that;

  • Puts the reader first
  • Focuses on action

Why use Clear Language?

Clear language means no one is excluded. It is fair, open and inclusive and can reach people who don’t read well.

A clear language document lets people;

  • Find what they need to know
  • Understand what they find

How does clear language help?

  • Saves time, money, and resources, because it gets the job done the first time
  • Reaches people who don’t read well
  • Helps all readers understand information
  • Avoids misunderstandings and errors
  • Act on what they find out

What does Clear Language look like?

It usually consists of;

  • Short sentences with one point
  • Simple graphics that are easy to understand
  • Uses headings, sub-headings and bullets
  • Some bold type to highlight important points
  • Essential information with lots of white space

Further Sources

A Plain English Handbook

What is Clear Language?

Clear Language Design Guide

Clear Language Dictionary

Clear Language Checklist

Clarity Kit 1

Clarity Kit 2

Clarity Kit 3

Do your members know their contract?

Clear language and design for union communicators

Clear Language Screen

Checklist for Plain Language

B.C. Government Plain Language Guide

Literacy Videos

More About Literacy

Definitions of Literacy

Literacy Levels in Canada IALSS

Literacy Review Stats

Literature Review and Literacy Levels

Skills for Life – Measuring Adult Literacy and Skills

The Future of Learning in Canada

Literacy Globe & Mail