08 October, 2013 - Fewer Irish adults with lower literacy but numeracy can be improved

New major international survey finds Ireland is one of only five countries to reduce the proportion of adults with lower literacy skills

Ireland is making progress in fostering adult literacy according to a new major international survey. The results of PIAAC 2012, the first international survey of its kind amongst adults aged between 16 and 65, found that fewer Irish people have lower literacy skills.

The survey shows that the proportion of Irish adults scoring at lower levels when tested for literacy skills dropped by 4 per cent compared with the last international research undertaken in Ireland in the 1990s. PIAAC 2012 also found that Ireland is one of only five countries that has reduced the proportion of adults scoring at these levels.

On average across the countries that participated, 16.7 per cent of adults score at or below Level 1 for literacy proficiency. Ireland has 17.9 per cent of adults at this level, giving a rank of 15 out of 24 countries, which is statistically not different from the study average. 

Overall Irish adults were found to be slightly below the survey average in literacy.  PIAAC 2012 places Ireland 17th out of 24 participating countries, and in a group with Germany, Poland, Austria, Flanders(Belgium) and Northern Ireland, whose literacy mean scores are not statistically different from that of Ireland.

The survey found that in terms of numeracy, Ireland’s performance is below average. This weaker performance, compared to the progress being made on adult literacy, echoes the findings of previous international research that has informed initiatives such as the new Project Maths syllabus in schools.

The PIAAC 2012 survey also measured the problem-solving ability of adults in technology-rich environments. It found that the proportion of Irish adults deemed to have lower problem-solving skills was broadly in line with the international average score. The number of adults who scored at having higher levels in these skills was below average.

Commenting on the results published by the OECD, the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, said: “I am encouraged that this survey shows we are making progress on reducing the number of adults with low literacy levels.  However, our overall performance on literacy, but particularly numeracy, is not as strong as I would have liked.  We must drive forward the implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy in our schools and focus strongly on literacy, numeracy and ICT in lifelong learning. Further progress is also required to equip adults to engage with technology to solve problems. 

“As this is the first time the PIAAC survey has been undertaken, I would treat the results with some caution as it is very much a baseline survey and it will be more informative to see trends over time. “

The Minister for Training and Skills, Ciaran Cannon, said: “The literacy, numeracy and ICT skills that were good enough in the past will not be good enough in the future.  I believe we are firmly on the right path in reforming how core skills are taught and learned in schools. In addition, the fundamental reform programme we have undertaken in the further education and training sector allows us to deal with these challenges in an integrated and coherent way.  SOLAS and the ETBs, in developing and implementing our Further Education and Training Strategy, will bring a renewed focus to the fostering of key skills in the adult population.”

Note for Editors

The OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a major new international survey of adult skills. The survey builds on the concepts and methodology of previous international studies, the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL), but PIAAC is unprecedented in the broad range of its analysis objectives and the large number of countries (24) that participated.

PIAAC has been designed primarily to provide data on key adult skills, namely literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments, which are considered to underlie the success of the individual, and in turn to contribute to the overall success of society.

Following a field trial in the summer of 2010, the main PIAAC survey was administered in Ireland between August 2011 and March 2012 by the Central Statistics Office on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. The sample of respondents was selected to be representative of the geographical distribution and socio-demographic characteristics of the population. Data was collected face-to-face by CSO interviewers in the homes of respondents using a mix of laptop computers and paper test booklets.

Each selected person who fully completed the survey received a gift voucher worth €30. Almost 6,000 adults (5,963) aged 16-65 responded to the survey in Ireland. The overall response rate for Ireland was 72 per cent which was the third highest achieved by participating countries.