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A ground breaking new survey of adult skills and competencies was undertaken in Ireland.



The survey was carried out in Ireland by the Central Statistics Office at the behest of the Department of Education and Skills between August 2011 and March 2012 by:

  • interviewing approximately 6,000 adults aged 16-65 years in their homes.
  • assessing their literacy and numeracy skills and their ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments.
  • collecting a broad range of information from the adults taking the survey, including how their skills are used at work and in other contexts such as the home and the community.

PIAAC builds on previous international surveys of adult skills, allowing literacy levels to be compared over a 13-17 year period for some countries. PIAAC breaks new ground by...

  • expanding the range of skills being measured.
  • introducing a self-reported measure of the use of skills at work.
  • using computers to administer an international assessment of this kind. 


How was PIAAC managed internationally?

PIAAC is a cooperative venture managed at the international level by participating OECD countries. The project was steered by a Board of Participating Countries (BPC) and supported by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The OECD contracted the Educational Testing Service to manage the consortium responsible for the implementation of PIAAC.

The organisations in the consortium were led by Irwin Kirsch of ETS as the project director and comprise:


Access to expertise 

As an international cooperative venture, PIAAC provides participating countries with access to high-quality expertise in the measurement of adult skills. By sharing the costs of development and pooling resources, participating countries have access to a greater level of expertise than would otherwise be the case.


Quality assurance

The International PIAAC consortium developed extensive quality standards that applied internationally.  National adherence to these standards was monitored.

The following areas especially were subject to international quality assurance:

  • adherence to ethical principles
  • sampling plan and sample selection
  • adaptation, translation and validation of the survey instruments
  • IT facilities: adaptation and integration of survey software into national IT system
  • human and organisational resources of the institute conducting the survey
  • interviewer training and monitoring
  • data collection, processing and validation
  • checking of the realised sample and the non-respondents for structural characteristics   
  • data privacy and data security
  • data analysis and reporting.


What was the timetable for the implementation of PIAAC?

Administration of the survey occurred between August 2011 and March 2012, with both national and international reports being released on 8th October 2013.


What countries participated in the first round of PIAAC?

Twenty-four countries, for the most part OECD members, participated in the first round of PIAAC.

OECD Countries 
Australia Japan (Links to the Japanese PIAAC website)
Austria (links to the Austrian PIAAC website) Korea
Belgium (links to the Belgian PIAAC website) Netherlands (Links to the Netherlands PIAAC website)
Canada (links to Statistics Canada website) New Zealand
Czech Republic (links to the Czech Republic PIAAC website) Norway
Denmark (links to Denmark PIAAC website) Poland
Finland Portugal
France Slovak Republic 
Ireland (links to CSO website) Sweden
Italy (Non-Member Economies) United Kingdom
Estonia United States (link to the United States PIAAC website)


Why assess adult skills?

Over the past two decades, there has been growing interest by national governments and other stakeholders in an international assessment of adult skills that allows monitoring of how well prepared populations are for the challenges of a knowledge-based society.

Directly assessing adult skills has significant advantages over previous measures of human capital, based on educational qualifications held by the working-age population, since an educational diploma does not certify a precise skill even on the day it is awarded. A certificate or diploma earned many years before is even less precise in describing someone’s competencies today. PIAAC will enhance the understanding of the effectiveness of education and training systems in developing basic cognitive skills and key generic work skills. For younger cohorts, PIAAC will complement the results of PISA by providing measures of skill following completion of initial education. For older cohorts, PIAAC will allow examination and analysis of the processes of skills loss and maintenance and the effectiveness of education and skill formation systems in supporting skills development over the lifecycle.


What skills were assessed in previous surveys?

In the mid-1990s, three waves of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) assessed the prose, document and quantitative literacy of adults in a total of 22 countries, and between 2002 and 2006, the Adult Literacy and Life skills (ALL) Survey assessed prose and document literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in eleven countries and one state. These surveys have demonstrated the feasibility of assessing internationally how well adults perform literacy, numeracy and problem-solving tasks in real-life situations. Ireland participated in IALS in 1995.


How is this being extended in PIAAC?

PIAAC builds on previous surveys and extends the ambitions of international adult assessment beyond the more traditional measures of literacy and numeracy. There is a growing need to collect more sophisticated information that will more closely match the ambitions of governments to develop a high quality workforce able to solve problems and deal with complex information that is often presented electronically on computers.

PIAAC's measurement of competencies in problem solving and of skills used in the workplace moves the survey well beyond conventional measurements of literacy. These two features will help to assess the extent to which adults have acquired a generic set of skills and competencies. At the same time, PIAAC looks more closely than previous surveys at whether people with low literacy levels have the basic building blocks that they need to read effectively.


What else is new about PIAAC?

PIAAC collected information from respondents concerning their use of key work skills in their jobs - a first for an international study. PIAAC includes a large range of countries, providing a more comprehensive international picture of human capital and other aspects of adult competency. It is designed as a survey that will be repeated over time to allow policy-makers to monitor the development of human capital in their countries. The survey is also ambitious in its analytical objectives. It not only measures the level of skills but also tries to assess how skills are associated with the success of individuals and countries. The survey also looks at how well education and training systems succeed in generating these competencies, and at how public policy might improve their effectiveness.

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