Irish adults at or below average for literacy and numeracy

First OECD study of its kind to measure adult competencies

Statistics  published by the OECD this morning show that literacy levels among Irish 16 to 65-year-olds are below average in a survey of  24 countries. Photograph: The Irish Times

Statistics published by the OECD this morning show that literacy levels among Irish 16 to 65-year-olds are below average in a survey of 24 countries. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Ireland was ranked as only average in terms of adult literacy and numeracy, according to international studies published this morning by the OECD and by the Central Statistics Office.

And while our performance in literacy is improving, numeracy remains unacceptably weak and Ireland has lower than average skills when it comes to using new technology to solve problems, the reports suggest.

The facts and figures are part of a major international effort to assess adult competencies across 24 countries using common methods and measuring systems.

This first International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) will provide a baseline for subsequent studies with the next to be completed in 2020.

Masses of data have been pulled together into a 600 page report from the OECD, while the CSO has a 150 page report focusing on the Irish figures.

In some cases it has been possible to match up figures in earlier studies such as the International Adult Literacy Survey, and these show an improved performance for literacy skills here.

The IALS survey when adjusted to match the new methods showed that 7.1 per cent of people here in 1994 were at the lowest level for literacy skills.

This has declined in the new study to 4.2 per cent, an improvement but one that still ranks us 15th out of 24 countries in this category. Combining all Irish 16 to 65-year-olds taking part in the study, the literacy results place us at below average at 17th of 24 countries.

We also perform below par in numeracy, something already seen in previous studies, and as a consequence prompting the introduction of Project Maths to bring up standards, according to the Department of Education and Skills.

It is still too soon for the new syllabus to have an impact but the new study places Ireland at 19th out of 24 for numeracy.

The average Irish score was 255 in this part of the study, with the 24 country average standing at 266.

The OECD has for the first time included a special category meant to assess skills related to the use of new technology, described as: “problem solving in a technology-rich environment”.

Only 20 countries participated in this part of the study including Ireland.

The results showed that 10 per cent of people here did not take part saying they had no computer experience.

Another 17.7 per cent of people started but then opted out of this study, higher than the average for all countries which stood at 9.9 per cent.

More than 40 per cent of Irish adults scored at or below the lowest level for problem solving, close to the average for all countries.

About 25 per cent of adults were at levels two and three, far behind the average of 34 per cent.

The CSO data goes into much detail, looking at age bands, gender and the person’s economic circumstances.

The survey of almost 6,000 people here was organised by the CSO and conducted in respondents’ own homes with a representative present for the two to three hours needed to complete the survey.

Each participant, even if the opted out of the computer-based element, received a €30 voucher for taking part.

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