International Adult Literacy Survey

The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) survey was the first comprehensive attempt to profile the literacy skills of 16 to 64 year olds worldwide. It was developed by the the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and was carried out from 1994 to 1998 in 20, predominantly developed, countries including Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland results revealed that one in four working age adults have problems with even the simplest of literacy tasks – 500,000 adults were found to be at or below literacy level 1 of a five level scale. At this level a person may, for example, be unable to determine the correct amount of medicine to take based on information printed on the medicine package.

IALS also showed that another 30% of Irish adults were at level 2, meaning they could only cope with very simple material.

According to the survey, early school leavers, older adults, non-English speakers and unemployed people are most at risk of having literacy difficulties. In addition, the people with the lowest skills are least likely to take part in adult education.

IALS was conducted in Ireland in 1995 by the Educational Research Centre, St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra on behalf of the Department of Education and Science. The findings for the Republic of Ireland were published in 1997 and a copy of the report is available here.