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European Commission

Brussels, 8 October 2013

PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills – frequently asked questions

IP/13/922

1. What does the Survey of Adult Skills measure and how are the skills measured?

The Survey directly assesses the skills of about 5 000 16-65 year olds per participating country, representing the countries' working age population. The skills tested are literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments (solving problems in a computer environment). The survey also asks about the use of ICT at work and in everyday life, generic skills required at work, whether the skills and qualifications match the work requirements and questions about e.g. education, work and socio-economic background.

The proficiency that respondents showed in the test is measured on a scale from 0 to 500 points, which is divided into skills levels (from below 1 to 5 for literacy and numeracy; from below 1 to 3 for problem solving). On the literacy and numeracy scales, each additional year of education equals approximately an increase of 7 points, one proficiency level equates approximately to seven years of education. For more detailed information, see http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac/.

2. How do the skills of citizens in EU countries compare with other world leading economies such as USA, Canada, Australia and Japan?

At global level, Japan outperforms all other countries with its high share of performers at levels 3-5 and very few low performers. Big non-European economies like Canada and the US do not score very differently from many EU countries.

Figure 1: How proficient are adults in literacy?

Share of the population 16-65 years old at each skills level per country

Source: Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), ordered by the share of level 1 and below. Missing: did not take the test.

3. What are the most striking differences between EU countries?

Among EU countries, roughly three groups can be identified: countries with high shares of top performing adults and low levels of low performers like the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden, among which Finland comes closest to Japan; countries with varying patterns but whose results are not significantly different; and, finally, countries with few top performers and very high shares of low performers such as Spain and Italy.

For example, when comparing results in literacy across countries, young tertiary graduates in Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium (Flanders), Austria, Estonia and Germany score among the highest of any participants in the survey, with tertiary degree holders in Finland reaching the lower end of level 4. Upper secondary graduates on average perform at the lower end of level 3, scoring 20 points lower (this equalling roughly three years of education) than tertiary graduates. Here, once again, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Germany perform better.

However, it is important to consider the complex interplay of factors: Success in formal education opens up opportunities for individuals to access high skill jobs, which in turn helps maintain and develop high skills levels. And there are other factors that might override the impact of education, such as work experience, long unemployment spells or non-formal learning. Nevertheless, the analysis of the younger age group provides the most interesting and surprising results, particularly concerning the performance of tertiary education graduates compared with secondary education graduates.

Figure 2: How proficient are recent graduates with different educational attainment?

Mean proficiency scores of 16-29 years olds by highest educational attainment

Source: Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), ordered average score of tertiary graduates

4. Will there be new data about skills in those EU countries which did not participate in the survey?

There are two complementary rounds of the survey.

Currently a 2nd round for new countries is being implemented with three more EU Member States participating: Greece, Lithuania and Slovenia. Data collection will start in 2014.

A 3rd round is foreseen as of 2015 and the Commission encourages the participation of the remaining EU countries in the survey.

The OECD and the Commission also cooperate to ensure a continuity of the survey in order to enable monitoring progress in the future.

5. How much financial support has the European Commission provided for the Survey of Adult Skills?

The Commission supported the participation of countries in the Survey by providing financial contributions from the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP). On average, the 17 participating EU Member States and Norway as an LLP country received € 75 000 per year over 3 or 4 years. This amounts to € 5 million in total. The Commission's Directorate-General for Employment has also provided € 1 million in support for the OECD secretariat. The Commission is continuing its support for the recently started second round of the Survey, under the same conditions.

6. What will the forthcoming Education and Skills Online Assessment tool be in practice?

It will be an assessment tool designed to provide individual level results on numeracy and problem solving. All results will be comparable to the measures used in the Survey on Adult Skills and can be benchmarked against the national and international results available for the participating countries.

The tool is appropriate for students or young people who are not in school, who are interested in transitioning to post-secondary education/training or into the workforce. It is also appropriate for adults of various ages who either wish to re-enter an educational or training environment or want to demonstrate their workforce readiness skills. The tool can also be used to assess the human capital of enterprises, educational institutions and other aggregate entities.

A pilot version will be available by the end of 2013.

7. What is the aim of the new Education and Skills Cooperation Arrangement between the Commission and the OECD?

The Commission coordinates political cooperation with and between the Member States, supported by the relevant EU programmes and funds, and is currently developing its country analysis capacity within the Europe 2020 process. The OECD values the Commission's expertise and capacity for analysing and assessing education systems. The OECD's work also comprises countries outside Europe which are of strategic importance for the EU as partners and peers. The aim is to align efforts in order to help both organisations to provide a better service for member countries, and enable the avoidance of duplications.

Intensified cooperation is foreseen in three key areas:

  • Skills strategies, to support countries or regions to put in place, together with key stakeholders, concrete plans to improve the supply and use of skills

  • Country analyses, to help countries to identify challenges and opportunities in the fields of education and training and to initiate appropriate reforms

  • Assessments and surveys, to provide internationally comparable information for evidence based policy making.


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