Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

Detailed information for 2010 (pilot survey)





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The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is an international programme of assessment of adult skills and competencies initiated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It aims to collect the information of residents from several countries, including Canada.

Data release - This is a pilot survey. No data will be released.


The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a multi-cycle international programme of assessment of adult skills and competencies initiated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It aims to collect the information of residents from 27 countries, including Canada. The survey will focus on the Key cognitive and workplace skills that are required for successful participation in the economy and society of the 21st century. The pilot project was administered in 2010 and, the actual survey will be administered for the first time in 2011. The survey will also collect information on skills required in the workplace, participants' educational backgrounds and professional attainments, and their ability to use information and communications technology. In addition, PIAAC includes an assessment of cognitive skills to measure participants' general levels of literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology rich environments.

PIAAC has evolved from two previous international literacy surveys: the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), conducted between 1994 and 1998, and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL), conducted between 2002 and 2006. With the first round of data collection, PIAAC seeks to ensure continuity with these previous surveys, to provide information regarding change in the distribution of skills over the years since the previous survey, to extend the concept of literacy and numeracy to problem solving in technology-rich environments and to provide more information about individuals with low levels of competency by assessing reading component skills.

Users of the data include federal and provincial governments, academics, literacy and skills development professionals, media and interested members of the public. The data are used to inform policy decisions, help effectively allocate resources where needed and inform decisions on the composition and content of remedial skill development course and adult education.


  • Adult education and training
  • Education, training and learning
  • Literacy

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The target population for PIAAC is persons of working age (defined as individuals aged between 16 and 65 years), living in Canada but not in an institution or collective dwelling and, not a full-time member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Instrument design

Four areas of competence will be assessed: Problem-solving in a technology-rich environment; Literacy; Reading component measures; and Numeracy. As the intent of PIAAC is to have its results linked to previous international adult assessments, these designs assume that 60 percent of the literacy and numeracy tasks will come from the International Adult Literacy Study (IALS) and the Adult Literacy Life Skills Survey (ALL). New measures will be developed for reading components and problem solving based on their respective frameworks.

The survey instruments include an Entry component followed by the Background Questionnaire (BQ), an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) module, an exercise component, reading component and the Exit component, which are all administered in the respondent's home by a Statistics Canada interviewer. The Entry is designed to gather demographic information for each member of the household. Once this information has been collected, a respondent is selected from the eligible members of the home. The BQ is administered to all respondents by Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI). It collects information on ethnicity, immigrant status, age and sex, formal and informal education and training (extensive section), linguistic information, self-assessment of reading and writing in mother tongue, parental education and occupation, current work status and history, current occupation, industry and earnings, literacy, numeracy and technology skills used at work, literacy, numeracy and technology skills used at home, civic engagement, mental and physical health, general household information (e.g. size of family, number and age of children) and income resources.

The ICT module provides a set of screening questions to assess the respondent's familiarity with using a computer mouse, a tutorial for respondents who want to practice computer skills and, an ICT core to determine whether the respondent has the basic set of skills needed to complete the computer-based Exercise.

The computer-based Exercise portion of the survey assesses literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology rich environments. The Exercise is self-administered. The paper-based Exercise consists of a core section of five or six simple activities and a Main Exercise which assesses literacy and numeracy. The paper-based exercise is also self-administered. While most respondents will be asked to complete the computer-based Exercise, a number of respondents will be randomly assigned a paper Exercise. Respondents assigned to the computer-based Exercise who are unable or unwilling to use the computer will be provided a paper booklet.

The Reading Component will measure badic reading skills via three short sections including word meaning (print vocabulary), sentence processing and basic passage cvomprehension. Only respondents who are assigned a paper-based Exercise will complete a Reading Component booklet. The Exit is designed to deal with post-interview procedures such as assigning Outcome Codes or ending the interview.


This is a sample survey with a cross-sectional design.

Data collection for this pilot survey will be done in Quebec, Ontario and New-Brunswick. The sample for the pilot survey will not be representative of the Canadian population.

The pilot survey will include approximately 3500 respondents.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: 2010-05-13 to 2010-08-16

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

The direct assessment component of PIAAC will be computer-based. A paper and pencil version of all domains involving the direct assessment of skills other than problem solving has been developed for those respondents lacking the necessary skills to undertake a computer-based assessment. The background questionnaire will be delivered solely in a computer assisted interview format.

Contact and screening (the Entry portion) can be completed by telephone or by personal vist to confirm the household address and make an appointment with the chosen respondent to visit them at their convenience. Proxy responses are not permitted. The Background Questionnaire will be administered by the interviewer using computer-assisted interviewing techniques. Once completed, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Module is administered to determine if the respondent has the computer skills necessary to complete the computer-based Exercise. If the respondent passes the ICT Core, either a paper Exercise or a computer-based Exercise will be randomly assigned. However, a paper Exercise will be assigned if the respondent does not answer enough questions correctly in the ICT Core.

For the computer Exercise, 21 computer-based task booklets were constructed by combining two blocks of items from a pool of thirteen blocks (eight measuring computer literacy and numeracy, eight measuring problem solving with either literacy or numeracy and five measuring the problem-solving domain). For the paper Exercise, there are two literacy task booklets, two numeracy task booklets with each having a reading component. Each block has on average about 40 questions related to about 15 specific stimuli (additional testing material such as a photo, calculator, ruler and templates were provided whenever appropriate). The combination of blocks into 29 booklets was done so that each block appeared in a booklet paired with each of the other blocks in both first and second position. Each respondent is given as much time as they require to answer as many questions as they could in one of the booklets. The booklet to be answered by any given respondent is randomly pre-assigned for each sampled household. The completed booklets are then sent to Statistics Canada and scored by experts trained to follow the international scoring criteria.

The target response rate is 66%. Follow-up of non-respondents is continuous throughout the collection period.

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s) .

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects that could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.

In order to prevent any data disclosure, confidentiality analysis is done using the Statistics Canada Generalized Disclosure Control System (G-Confid). G-Confid is used for primary suppression (direct disclosure) as well as for secondary suppression (residual disclosure). Direct disclosure occurs when the value in a tabulation cell is composed of or dominated by few enterprises while residual disclosure occurs when confidential information can be derived indirectly by piecing together information from different sources or data series.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

This methodology does not apply to this survey.

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