Study finds Singapore adults lag in literacy compared with OECD average
SINGAPORE, June 28 — The proportion of adults here possessing poor literacy and numeracy skills is larger than the average of that in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, a study measuring adult skills has showed.
The Survey of Adult Skills, administered by the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (Piaac), showed that more than one in four adults in the Republic (26.1 per cent) are proficient at or below Level One in literacy — compared with the OECD average of 18.9 per cent.
At Level One proficiency, adults — defined in the survey as those between 16 and 65 years — can read brief texts on familiar topics and locate a single piece of information identical in form to information in the question or directive posed.
By contrast, only about one in ten adults attained the highest levels of proficiency — Levels Four or Five — in literacy, in line with the OECD average of 10.6 per cent.
In numeracy, nearly 28 per cent of the adults surveyed here scored at or below Level One, about five percentage points above the OECD average of 22.7 per cent. At this level of proficiency, adults can perform basic mathematical processes in common and concrete contexts, such as one-step or simple processes involving counting and sorting.
In comparison, 13.3 per cent of adults attained Level Four or Five proficiency in numeracy, a touch above the OECD average of 11.2 per cent.
The proportion of adults with stellar proficiency varies according to age. In literacy, 16.5 per cent of adults here between 16 and 24 years reached Levels Four or Five in proficiency, compared with just 2.4 per cent among those aged 55 to 65.
In the case of numeracy, nearly one-fifth (or 19 per cent) of adults here between the ages of 16 and 24 years attained Levels Four or Five in proficiency, markedly higher than the OECD average of 10.1 per cent. By contrast, only 3.4 per cent among those aged 55 to 65 here attained the same levels of proficiency in numeracy.
The Republic stands out as the country where variability in literacy is the largest, at 77 score points, compared with the OECD average of 62.
The variability is numeracy is even larger, with 88 score points separating those in the top and in the bottom quarters of the proficiency distribution, compared with the OECD average of 68.
Nevertheless, adults here scored among the highest across all participating countries in the survey in the area of tech-savviness, with 7.7 per cent of them attaining the highest proficiency level in problem-solving in technology-rich environments.
This is significantly higher than the OECD average of 5.4 per cent. Adults at this level of proficiency can complete tasks such as those involving multiple computer applications and a large number of steps.
The OECD ascribed the vast disparities in proficiency levels to the effects of age, educational attainment and language barriers.
For example, older adults received lower levels of education than their younger counterparts, with 40.1 per cent of those aged 55 to 65 without upper-secondary education, compared with only 4.7 per cent among the 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed.
Also, the survey, which polled about 5,400 adult Singapore citizens and permanent residents here, was conducted in English, but nearly eight in 10 of the older adults reported that they were non-native speakers of the language.
The Piaac survey covered 34 economies worldwide, including Japan, Australia and Canada. — TODAY