Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

Detailed information for 2022





Record number:


The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a multi-cycle international program and an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It aims to collect information on the competencies of adults from several countries, including Canada. Each country can use its own survey name. In Canada, the name "International Study of Adults (ISA)" is used during collection.

Data release - Scheduled for fall 2024


The International Study of Adults (ISA) has been designed to gain insight into the abilities of adults, such as reading, finding information, using computers and technology, and to learn about their education and work experience. Results from the study will be used to plan programs, and to compare Canada to other countries who are conducting a similar study.

In Canada, the ISA is being conducted by Statistics Canada in partnership with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). The last survey took place in 2012.

This ISA cycle evolved from cycle 1 which was held in 2012, as well as from two previous international literacy surveys: the International Adult Literacy Survey, conducted between 1994 and 1998, and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey, conducted between 2003 and 2008. PIAAC seeks to ensure continuity with these previous surveys, to provide information regarding change in the distribution of skills over the years, and to expand the skills being measured in the context of our current society. Users of the data include federal and provincial governments, international partners, 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 content of skills development courses and adult education programs.

Reference period: Calendar year


  • Adult education and training
  • Education, training and learning
  • Job training and educational attainment
  • Labour
  • Literacy
  • Wages, salaries and other earnings

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The target population consists of Canadian adults aged 16 to 65 living in the ten provinces. Excluded from the survey's coverage are: persons living on reserves and other Aboriginal settlements, full-time members of the Canadian Forces living on military bases, residents of some sparsely populated areas and the institutionalized population. Once combined, these exclusions represent less than 2% of the whole population of Canadian adults aged 16 to 65 years old, and therefore respect the survey's international requirements.

Instrument design

The survey questionnaire and psychometric items were designed by a group of international experts led by the PIAAC international consortium. Each task item was originally designed in English and constitutes the master international item that was to be adapted by each of the participating countries into their own language. The content of the questionnaire and the exercises from cycle 1 held in 2012 were taken into account in the cycle 2 instrument design to ensure comparability of the data collected. All of the collection instruments were tested thoroughly. The final psychometric instrument was created using items that provided the most reliable and stable parameters in all three domains (literacy, numeracy and adaptive problem solving). In addition, many of the background questions and a selection of literacy and numeracy domain tasks given in PIAAC trace their origins to the 2003 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey or the 1994 Adult Literacy Survey. This was done in order to provide a psychometric link that would allow comparisons of skill distribution over time.

The survey instrument includes an Entry component, followed by the background questionnaire, and ends with an exercise on a tablet. The survey will be administered in the respondent's home by a Statistics Canada interviewer.

The Entry component is designed to gather demographic information for each member of the household. Once this information is collected, a respondent will be selected from the eligible members of the household.

The background questionnaire will be administered to all respondents by computer assisted personal interview (CAPI). It aims to collect information on ethnicity, immigrant status, age and gender, formal and informal education and training, linguistic information, self-assessment of reading and writing in the mother tongue, parental education and occupation, current work status and history, current occupation, industry and earnings, personal traits and attributes, literacy, numeracy and technology skills used at work and at home.

The skills assessment component will be completed by the respondent using a tablet and will assess literacy, numeracy and adaptive problem solving.


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

The sample for the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was selected using the 2021 Census (Long-form questionnaire).

Sample Design
Sample selection occurred in up to three stages.

In the first stage, geographical clusters were selected. These clusters were previously stratified into urban and rural strata. Subsequently, households were selected within each selected cluster. Then within each selected household, one individual was chosen to participate in this survey.

Sampling unit
In rural or small urban areas, small contiguous geographical areas, called clusters, are the sampling units at the first stage. The sampling unit at the second stage is the dwelling and at the third stage, the sampling unit is the person. In major urban areas, a two-stage design was used, where dwellings are the sampling unit at the first stage and persons from the roster are the sampling units at the second stage.

Stratification method
In all provinces except Alberta, the frame is stratified into urban/rural or small urban areas. In Alberta, strata are formed based on urban-rural classification and boundaries of the economic regions in the province.

Sampling and sub-sampling
The selection of clusters and households was done by systematic probability proportional to size sampling. Within a household, one individual was selected at random.

In addition to the general sample, specific subsamples are selected for Indigenous population and Youth. In total, an initial sample of about 55,000 dwellings was selected and sent to collection.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: 2022-09-02 to 2023-07-31

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

The interview is composed of four main components:

- The Entry component
- The background questionnaire component
- The skills assessment component
- The post-interview questions

The entry and the background questionnaire will be administered by an interviewer in the respondent's household using a computer assisted interview (CAI). The skill assessment component will be auto-administered. The post-interview questions are a series of questions answered by the interviewer about the interview.

The Entry component can be answered by any member of the household. First, the address will be confirmed to assure that the household is really the one selected. A list of household members will be collected, and all eligible members will be identified. Then, one of the eligible household members will be randomly selected to complete the rest of the interview. Proxy interviews will not be accepted.

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

Error detection

The metadata will be provided upon release.


The metadata will be provided upon release.


The metadata will be provided upon release.

Quality evaluation

The metadata will be provided upon release.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects which 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.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

This methodology does not apply to this survey.

Data accuracy

The metadata will be provided upon release.

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