Percentage who scored in advanced literacy levels, 2018 or MRYA

What is this metric and why is it important?

Literacy is a fundamental part of how individuals engage with and participate in society, and the innovation economy is no different. We report on both the percentage of people in a country that have shown advanced skill levels on an international test and the average score on that test.

How is Canada doing?

  • The average literacy score for Canada is 273 out of 500, which is higher than the OECD average of 266 but well below global leaders like Japan (296), Finland (288), and the Netherlands (284).
  • 14% of those in Canada placed in the advanced literacy levels, which is above the OECD average of 10% but still well behind leading countries like Japan (23%), Finland (22%), and the Netherlands (18%). 
  • Turkey has the highest literacy rate gender gap in terms of average score, with the other gaps being quite minimal. 
  • There is minimal variation across most provinces; however, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut score substantially below the Canadian average. 

Metric discussion

Literacy is defined by the OECD as “understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging with written texts to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” The test measures the ability to engage with written texts and the capacity for future learning. The test is administered by the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Participants receive a score out of 500, which is then categorized into five levels, with Levels 4 and 5 indicating advanced literacy, Level 2 indicating basic competency, and below Level 2 indicating inadequate literacy for effective participation in the economy and society.  

Literacy is one of three skills from PIAAC that we investigate, the others being numeracy and problem-solving in technology rich environments (PS-TRE). Living and working in a rapidly changing society and economy requires that all people have basic levels of all three, as well as capacity to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives.


PIAAC is still a relatively new and infrequently used assessment, so it tends to provide only a snapshot of adult skills. Moreover, adult skills in aggregate do not tend to move very quickly, so changes over time are minimal. The differences between countries are also quite small, and these two facts together make this metric difficult to use in explaining differences in innovation.

However, the distribution of skills attainment across different demographic categories can play an important role in understanding differences in individuals’ participation in and benefit from the economy. More work is needed to link skills scores with achievement in education and the economy.

© Inclusive Innovation Monitor 2021