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PIAAC Background Information

PIAAC will assess the level of core skills possessed by adults in participating countries.  It will provide information on the skills individuals use at work and about themselves and their lives.


Measures of key cognitive and workplace skills

PIAAC is an assessment of literacy in the information age, understood as the "interest, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use socio-cultural tools, including digital technology and communication tools, to access, manage, integrate and evaluate information, construct new knowledge and communicate with others".


An evidence base for policy-relevant analysis

Data from PIAAC will allow investigation of the links between key cognitive skills and a range of demographic variables, economic and other outcomes as well as the use of skills in the workplace and other settings. This will constitute a rich evidence base for policy-relevant analysis.


Better measures of the stock of skills

By providing a direct measure of key cognitive skills in addition to measures of formal educational attainment, PIAAC will offer a far more complete and nuanced picture of the stock of human capital than has yet been available to policy makers in most OECD countries. In particular, PIAAC will give a picture of the distribution of the proficiency of the population according to the types and level of cognitive tasks they can perform together with the levels of formal education and training achieved.


International comparisons

An important element of the 'added value' of PIAAC compared with national surveys is its international comparative dimension. The PIAAC assessments and questionnaires will be designed to maximise their cross-cultural, cross-national and cross-language validity. All participating countries must adhere to common technical standards when implementing the survey. PIAAC will thus provide a firm basis for comparative analysis of skill formation systems and their outcomes and for international benchmarking regarding adult skills.


Which competencies will be assessed in PIAAC?

The purpose of the assessment elements is to measure core adult competencies required in the information age.


What is meant by problem-solving in technology-rich environments in PIAAC?

This refers to the ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish complex tasks. It is not a measurement of "computer literacy", but rather of the cognitive skills required in the information age - an age in which the accessibility of boundless information has made it essential for us to be able to work out what information we need, to evaluate it critically and to use it to solve problems. To assess this competency it is particularly important not just to measure basic proficiency but also to identify higher-order skills - a particular goal of PIAAC overall.


How will problem-solving in technology-rich environments be measured?

The first PIAAC survey focuses specifically on assessing the ability to solve problems using multiple sources of information on a laptop computer. Unlike some problem-solving assessments, the emphasis will be on information access, evaluation, retrieval and processing. The tasks will be of varying levels of difficulty both in their cognitive demands and in the technology skills required - with some being easier on one of these criteria, but harder on the other. Of particular interest will be tasks that are demanding from both a technological and cognitive point of view. They will allow to distinguish adults with high literacy according to whether they are able or not to apply their literacy skills in tasks requiring high technological competence.


What is meant by literacy in PIAAC?

Literacy is the ability to understand and use information from written texts in a variety of contexts to achieve goals and further develop knowledge and potential.  This is a core requirement for the development of higher-order skills and for positive economic and social outcomes. Previous studies have shown reading literacy to be closely linked to positive outcomes among the workforce, in social participation and in lifelong learning.


How will literacy be measured?

The assessment of reading literacy will draw heavily on previous international studies and allow for trends to be monitored. However, this assessment area will also be refined and extended in new ways. For example, PIAAC will give an overall measure of reading literacy but still allow countries to report prose and document literacy results separately. It will also build on the wide range of material introduced by ALL, drawing about 60% of the items from that survey, with the remaining 40% being new items developed for PIAAC in order to extend the framework used in earlier surveys to include electronic texts.


What is meant by numeracy in PIAAC?

Numeracy is the ability to use, apply, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas. It is an essential skill in an age when individuals encounter an increasing amount and wider range of quantitative and mathematical information in their daily lives. Numeracy is a parallel skill to reading literacy. It is important to assess how these competencies interact, since they are differently distributed across subgroups of the population.


How will numeracy be measured?

The assessment of numeracy will draw on the wide range of material introduced by ALL. Some 60% of items will be drawn from that survey, with the remaining 40% being new items developed specifically for PIAAC. Numeracy items will cover the four broad areas of content that characterise the mathematical demands placed on adults - quantity and number; dimension and shape; data, chance and pattern; relationships and change.


What is meant by reading components in PIAAC?

In order to read effectively, one requires basic skills such as word recognition, decoding skills, vocabulary knowledge and fluency. These are the building blocks of literacy and the basic reading component skills. Previous literacy surveys have found substantial proportions of the adult population unable to demonstrate adequate levels of skills needed to retrieve and understand written information and apply it to real life situations. However, previous surveys have not been able to distinguish between those who lack basic reading component skills from those who have mastered the mechanics of reading but are not skilled at comprehension.


How will reading components be measured?

In PIAAC, adults demonstrating lower literacy levels will be assessed to determine the extent to which they have developed the basic reading component skills. The purpose is not to compare countries in terms of how many adults master these building blocks, but rather to help individual countries understand more about those people who are identified as having low literacy levels.


How will the skills used at work be surveyed?

This represents an innovative part of PIAAC. Covering only adults in employment, it will use a "Job Requirements Approach" to ask adults about the types and levels of a number of generic skills used in the workplace. These include the use of reading and numeracy skills on the job as well as the mastery of information technology, communication, presentation and team-working skills. It will ask about the requirements of the person’s main job in terms of the intensity and frequency of the use of such skills.


What background information was collected by the PIAAC questionnaire?

The background questionnaire collected information about each person taking part in the PIAAC survey.

It asked about: 

  • Their demographic characteristics (age, gender, etc.);
  • Their educational and training background;
  • How they use literacy, numeracy, and technology skills in their daily lives; and,
  • Their job history and social aspects of their lives.

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