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Skills matter: Further results from the survey of adult skills

The capacity to manage information and solve problems using computers is becoming a necessity as ICT applications permeate the workplace, the classroom and lecture hall, the home, and social interaction more generally. The Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), was designed to measure adults’ proficiency in several key information-processing skills, namely literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Adults who are highly proficient in the skills measured by the survey are likely to be able to make the most of the opportunities created by the technological and structural changes modern societies are going through. Those who struggle to use new technologies are at greater risk of losing out. The results from the first round of the survey, covering 24 countries and economies, were reported in the OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. Another nine countries and economies collected data during 2014-15. This report presents the main findings for all 33 countries and economies that participated in the study over the two rounds. It finds substantial variation across countries/economies in adults’ average proficiency in the three domains assessed. More than 80 score points separate the highest- and lowest-scoring countries in literacy and numeracy, although many countries and economies score within a relatively close range of each other. Within countries and economies, proficiency scores in literacy and numeracy vary considerably: on average, 62 score points separate the 25% of adults who attained the highest and lowest scores in literacy; in numeracy, 68 score points separate those two groups. In almost all countries/economies, a sizeable proportion of adults (18.5% of adults, on average) has poor reading skills and poor numeracy skills (22.7% of adults, on average). Around one in four adults has no or only limited experience with computers or lacks confidence in their ability to use computers. In addition, nearly one in two adults is proficient only at or below Level 1 in problem solving in technology-rich environments. This adult can only use familiar applications to solve problems that involve few steps and explicit criteria, such as sorting e-mails into pre-existing folders.