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Many Canadians with a bachelor's degree don't have basic literacy skills: study

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – They are the best and brightest minds in the country and many of them don’t have the basic level of literacy needed to properly function in society.

International data suggest a shocking number of university graduates in Canada enter the work force lacking proper word and number skills.

A recent study evaluated adult literacy, math, and problem-solving skills; it found 27 per cent of Canadians with at least a bachelor’s degree don’t hit the benchmark for what’s considered a basic level of literacy.

The numbers are concerning to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

“Some of the research that we’ve published touches on these same numbers and one of the issues that we are trying to raise is that universities don’t necessarily have the measures in place to measure the added values that they bring to students’ literacy skills,” says Nicolas Dion, a researcher with the Council.

“We don’t know, for example, how their skills change from the time they enter a university program to the time they leave. So, when we see numbers like these coming out from StatsCan, which are generated by international surveys run by the OECD, it’s difficult to know where to look in terms of implementing a solution.”

Dion says the foundations for good literacy skills are laid in elementary and high school and we expect students with university degrees to be some of the most literate individuals in Canada, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“We are not talking about complex grammatical concepts. We are not talking about spelling difficult words. It’s something like reading the label on a prescription pill bottle and being able to carry out behaviours based on those instructions,” he tells News1130.

How is it that so many of Canada’s post-secondary students are able graduate without basic literacy skills?

“Universities often tend to focus on disciplinary knowledge. For example you’ll learn a lot about engineering or chemistry. But it’s easy to lose focus on other skills like teamwork, writing, or the ability to deal with numbers,” says Dion.

However, university grads still place better than the average Canadian. Almost 50 per cent of Canadians score lower than what is considered the benchmark for basic literacy.