The CSO today published the results of a major new international survey of adult skills known as PIAAC. The survey assessed the skills of adults in Ireland aged between 16 and 65 in the areas of literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.
The survey was run in 24 countries under the direction and supervision of the OECD and a consortium of international institutions. PIAAC was conducted in Ireland over eight months between August 2011 and March 2012 by the CSO on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. Almost 6,000 adults took part in the survey and Ireland had a 72% response rate, the third highest of the participating countries.
The OECD has also today published a comprehensive international report outlining the findings of PIAAC across all participating countries (http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac/publications.htm).
A ‘mean score’ is a single figure used to summarise the proficiency of adults in each of the three skill areas (i.e. literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments). Scores range from 1 to 500.
Literacy, numeracy and problem solving scores are also grouped into different levels of proficiency for each skill area or domain. Literacy and numeracy proficiency have been split into five levels and problem solving in technology-rich environments has been split into three, where the levels represent an increasing proficiency to successfully complete tasks within the domain.
1 See technical note below on adjusted mean scores.
An important new element of PIAAC is its use of three basic reading tests to examine the reading ability of those with the weakest literacy skills.
PIAAC results are compared with the results of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) that was conducted in Ireland in 1994.The IALS survey data has been rescaled to make it comparable with PIAAC.
In assessing the literacy trend in Ireland over time, it is important to take account of the dramatic population growth in the intervening period. There has been an increase of 700,000 in the population aged 16-65, from 2.31m to 2.99m. At the same time the percentage of non-Irish residents in the population has more than doubled and a higher percentage of these do not speak English as a native language (15% versus 50% now). Finally almost a quarter of the population aged 16-65 reported that their highest level of education was at primary level in 1996, but this had dropped to 10% in 2011 (Census 1996 and 2011).
2 The original figure was 25% at this level but the IALS data was rescaled by the OECD in 2012 resulting in a revised figure of 22% in Ireland.
Problem solving in technology-rich environments proficiency was also tested in PIAAC. This assessed the respondent’s ability to use a number of common computer applications (e.g. email, spread sheets, word processing, internet browser) to complete various tasks.
The distribution of adults across the different levels of the problem solving scale is reduced by the proportion of adults who said they had no computer experience (10% in Ireland as against an 8% study average), failed the basic computer skills assessment (5% in both Ireland and internationally) and the proportion of adults (17% in Ireland versus the study average of 10%) who opted not to take a computer-based assessment even though they had previously used a computer.
Across all countries a small percentage of respondents were not able to participate in the survey for literacy-related reasons (e.g. language difficulties, disability and literacy problems). This was 0.5% in Ireland and 1.2% on average internationally. The OECD devised a methodology to take account of this by assigning this group a low mean score (85) for literacy and numeracy. This has the effect of slightly reducing the literacy and numeracy mean scores of some countries and increasing the percentage at or below Level 1 for literacy and numeracy, when these respondents are included. The scores for Ireland are largely unaffected by this procedure (for example the unadjusted mean for literacy fell from 267 to 266 for Ireland and the percentage at or below Level 1 rose from 17.5% to 17.9%) but the relative position of countries internationally is slightly changed.
The full PIAAC 2012 report is available on the CSO web site:
The OECD international report is available here:
For further information contact
Donal Kelly at 021 453 5424 or
Mary Malone at 021 453 5374
Central Statistics Office
Central Statistics Office 8 October 2013
– ENDS –