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Adult education participation in North America: international perspectives


The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was a 22-country study conducted between 1994 and 1998. In every country nationally representative samples of adults aged 16-65 were interviewed and assessed at home. The goals of the survey were to create comparable literacy profiles across national, linguistic and cultural boundaries and to study the factors that influence literacy proficiency. One factor in particular was singled out for attention, namely the role of adult education and training in improving literacy skills and wider labor market outcomes. The monograph series includes studies by literacy scholars and experts drawing on the IALS database. This particular monograph was funded by the United States Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy. Other studies in the series were funded primarily by Human Resources Development Canada and Statistics Canada.

Today the capacity of labor markets, firms and individuals to adjust to change, improve productivity and capitalize on technological innovation depends in large measure on the skills of the adult population. Improving the stock of skills available to the economy through investment in adult education and workplace learning is therefore an issue of considerable strategic importance.

This monograph presents 15 international indicators that allow readers to compare the volume of adult education participation in North America with that of other advanced industrialized nations. The data offer a comparative snapshot of the total adult education effort as well as the social distribution of adult education opportunities in the mid to late 1990s. The findings generally suggest that both Canada and the United States have mature adult education and training markets. However, the findings also indicate that there are major differences among countries in who gets trained, and how much. On most measures North America finds itself in an average position, ahead of emerging economies but behind the Nordic countries.

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