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Join the “Crowd Sourced” Research of Media coverage of the OECD Survey of Adult Skills

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The results of the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) will be released on October 8th in all the countries that took part in the survey.

There is likely to be a large amount of media attention to these findings and it would be interesting to collect examples of media coverage that could be compared across countries. These examples might include local as well as national media reports in newspapers, broadcast and social media. They could be news or opinion items, such as editorials.

You are invited to post any examples of media coverage you come across in a comment response to this post.

The questions are:
– How are the PIAAC results being reported and where? For example, which results are focussed on: literacy, numeracy and/or problem solving – and which differences in results are highlighted: gender, age, regional, etc.?
– What kinds of issues are being raised in the media in response to the results?

Details of the media coverage to share
As well as your own comments on these questions, please give:

– the source, date and time and geographical location for each media item you post
– links to newspaper articles or broadcast programmes

The postings from different countries will be collated at the end of the calendar year 2013 by the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre and an analysis will be carried out by a team led by Mary Hamilton (Lancaster University), Keiko Yasukawa (University of Technology, Sydney) and Jeff Evans (Middlesex University). This analysis will be disseminated here.


  1. Overall, there appears to be huge concern about our low skills levels across the board and the impact of this on our social and economic viability ongoing. In terms of international competitiveness, it seems we do not shine on any metric other than apparently having a disproportionate and significant number of individuals with high literacy levels. This in turns suggests that the remaining majority have lower skills levels than at first apparent. The question that remains is to what extent do our current initiatives in lifelong learning, education and training respond to the challenges of maintaining our social and economic well-being?

    25/09 RoI NALA You Tube channel PIAAC’s potential to influence change focussed on utilising PIAAC results to promote the population’s political understanding and drive to improve adult literacy and numeracy skills development and described utilising a lifelong health analogy to achieve this with all stakeholders. It commented on the lack of further and higher educational involvement of large sections of the population; the impact these skills have on health, employment and family learning; implications for programme design and development in terms of curriculum, content and options for delivery and assessment; and encouraging the individuals to participate in skills development.
    25/09 RoI NALA You Tube channel Literacy for the 21st century: problem solving in a technology rich environment focussed on moving public perception away from “the three R’s” learnt in school and towards lifelong learning with reference to the national digital strategy. It highlights encouraging the whole population to participate in skills development and lifelong learning with links made to health, employment, libraries, family and learning opportunities.
    25/09 RoI NALA You Tube channel Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies focussed on background understanding of the (reading) literacy aspect of the survey to contextualise the results.
    25/09 RoI NALA You Tube channel William Thorn – Literacy for the 21st century: problem solving in a technology rich environment introduced an overview of PIAAC’s background and rationale as a study and how the tests were administered. It considers the impact of the identified skills on employment, salaries, health, social trust, participation in volunteering activities and political efficacy; the lifecycle of skills’ ebb and flow; and the framework assessing problem solving in technology rich environments in particular.
    08/10 10:10 UK BBC online newspaper Does England have the skills to win in the global economy?focussed on likely future economic implications for England and Northern Ireland in comparison with international competitors. It noted that while we appear near the bottom of the tables across the board, and perform worse at numeracy than literacy, these results encompassed a significant proportion of individuals with some of the highest literacy scores and that we don’t do too badly at problem-solving in technology rich environments (particularly women at work). Commentary links investment in education and training to economic performance and compares us unfavourably to global competitors in our performance and standing in the tables. Concern is expressed about our long-term competitive standing and ability to “pay our way”, particularly given our young adults perform worse than those approaching retirement, and suggests lack of social mobility and input into curriculum from employers as contributing factors.
    08/10 10:20 UK tes news online blog Adults in UK lag behind other countries in numeracy and literacy skills, survey reveals focussed on young people in England and Northern Ireland showing no generational improvement, contrary to all international competitors; while graduates compare with Japanese school leavers. Overall, we compare unfavourably across the board with significant variation in skills performance, previous governments were blamed, the current one drew attention to present initiatives, and concern was expressed about likely future social and economic impact.
    08/10 12:48 UK BBC online newspaper England’s young adults trail world in literacy and maths focussed on England’s young adults performing worse or no better than counterparts near retirement age in literacy and numeracy skills, contrary to all competitors, and appearing near the bottom of the league tables, with Northern Ireland little better. There was commentary on political parties impact over the last decades, current curriculum and qualifications initiatives and shadow cabinet alternatives as well as international comparison. Concern focussed on global economic competitiveness and local economic and social rewards associated with high level skills; and our shrinking percentage of this skilled workforce.
    08/10 22:21 UK Metro online newspaper Young Britons ‘among least literate and numerate in developed world’ focussed on literacy and numeracy in the UK being near the bottom of the league table and young adults having no better skills than those close to retirement age. There was a focus on poor global competitiveness in the coming years.
    08/10 USA Associated Press US adults score below average on worldwide test gave a broad overview of the international results and highlighted the low standing of the USA and impact of parental educational levels in the wide apparently socially entrenched skills gaps that exist, pointing to the 60% wage uplift for highly skilled American workers and twofold unemployment rates of the low-skilled. It drew attention to poor performance and unemployment levels in southern Europe and the stronger performance of Northern European countries attributing this in part to continuing education, which it identified as critical to ensuring adults were enabled to feed the benefits into their families and wider communities. It argues a strong case for accessible, appropriate, high quality lifelong education provision addressing social inequalities and feeding a healthy economy.
    09/10 RoI The Irish Examiner newspaper Ireland fourth last in study of literacy focussed on literacy and numeracy (with a brief mention of problem solving skills) being near the bottom of the league tables and, despite a slight (comparatively unusual) improvement in literacy skills since the last study, being outperformed globally. It mentions age and gender reflecting norms, with males being slightly better at numeracy and problem solving, and 25-34 year olds performing better in literacy and numeracy than school attendees, who in turn performed better than other age groups. It highlights the need to invest in basic skills as much as higher education and a lifelong learning educational policy.

    08/10 USA OECD Education Skilled for Life – Key findings from the survey of adult skills (Andreas Schleicher – Special advisor to the Secretary-General on Education Policy gives an analysis of results with plenty of graphics detailed that I couldn’t begin to summarise. The accompanying online conference audio is available here.

    The original report can be found here: OECD Skills Outlook 2013 First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills

  2. All the Irish newspapers and TVs carried the story this week, and not in a very flattering way. The Irish Examiner, for example, talked of no more saints and scholars in Ireland. The Irish Times was more measured in its response. The Irish Independent says the ‘Literacy survey makes for a disturbing read’ (http://www.independent.ie/opinion/editorial/literacy-survey-makes-for-a-disturbing-read-29645421.html.) IBEC, the employer organization, was more scathing and said “The report is a serious wake-up call for the Irish education system and demands an urgent response,”

    From personal on the ground contacts in Spain, the reaction there has been one of shock – some people making comments such as they had never come across a person with literacy difficulties in their lives, although others cynically pointed to the success of the football team and Rafael Nadal as evidence that Spain now spends too much money on non-typical education activity such as sport and they are very happy to be at the top of the FIFA ranking.
    However, looking across the papers in Europe, there doesn’t seem to be any great preoccupation outside the UK and Ireland with the survey, which makes you think…

  3. Thanks for that Kieran. How are you by the way? Yes, I have heard it said that illiteracy in Spain is lower because of closer phonological matching of spoken to written word in the language, which may be the case in many countries. That doesn’t account for all the other higher and applied reading and writing skills of course. I found these articles interesting for comparison:
    08/10 14:07 Spain El Huffington Post Estas son las preguntas de la OCDE que nos sitúan a la cola en matemáticas y comprensión lectora draws attention briefly to Spain’s worryingly low performance across the board and gives examples of activities that were posed asking whether readers could do the tasks.
    08/10 00:02 Spain El Pais El PISA de adultos también deja a España a la cola de la OCDE went into more depth commenting that older participants fared worse than young adults who as a group appear closer to the middle of the tables, but with few individuals with the highest skills levels. It drew attention to Spain’s low ranking in the tables and the impact this has on employment opportunities (28%) and on quality of life. It finishes with historical perspectives on educational provision nationally and the impact of early education and later application in work, study and life on individuals’ skills competencies, arguing for a lifelong learning perspective and the achievement of higher level qualifications.

    There appeared to be pages more reportage. My linguistic skills aren’t up to surveying the pan-European response unfortunately.

    NALA is doing great work in the field. I was watching some of their YouTube videos on presentations in preparation for the PIAAC findings. They are very politically active.

  4. Sarah Freeman

    Responding to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills on Monday David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:
    “This survey confirms our participation survey findings that those adults who have the most to gain are the ones who are missing out on learning the fundamental skills of literacy, numeracy and technology.”
    IN OTHER WORDS ‘are missing out’ means are not being provided with classes that suit their learning styles, their immediate everyday lives or their pace of learning. It is not a shame on the young people as the Metro implied on Tuesday when it announced ‘Young people in Britain have some of the worst reading, writing and maths skills in the developed world’ (see link in Tara’s blog above), but rather a shame and condemnation on how Western countries in their wretched race to compete, have turned their learners/potential employees into scoring commodities.
    Following on from RaPAL’s workshop ‘Literacy phased out of Adult Education’ (2 October) isn’t it time that the whole lot of us, Funders, Policy Makers, Managers, Practitioners and Learners realise we are so very caught up in the human capital agenda that our understanding of adult education at its most all-encompassing is obscured. Learners are not learning but cramming. We are failing to see that by fast tracking our courses to make them economically viable we are losing sight of exactly how important a realistic view is of what makes people literate or numerate in any particular context or at any particular juncture in their lives.
    As Hughes goes on to say: “We need to find out what will motivate people back into learning and create a culture where learning is seen as an aspirational activity which will not only benefit individuals but their families and communities as well.” Yes please NIACE ask for a clearer insight into this predicament! Ask for more transparent funding for community literacy/numeracy classes.
    If there aren’t too many jobs out there, there will always be communities that need building up and learning to share resources. Becoming more literate will empower people in every aspect of their lives not just as fodder for the international statistics scrum.
    But then again if we must talk employability, Hughes has the last word on the nonsense we have come to…
    “We cannot allow a situation where the adults who don’t participate in learning are the ones who need to improve their skills the most for the sake of their future career prospects.”

  5. Mary Jane Onnen

    Good afternoon,
    The results of the PIACC findings were reported briefly in the local newspaper here in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as broadcast on the National Public Radio. I’m pasting a link that was included on the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) e-mail bulletin. The link was headlined as “Troubling stats on adult literacy”.
    What I always find just as interesting if not more so than the information are the comments which follow the article. There were lots of opinions on both the cause of and remedy for the low literacy in the U.S.
    I teach at a community college where the focus is on increasing the success of developmental students. This year students entering with below college level reading, writing or math competencies are mandated to complete the developmental classes within the first two semesters. In addition, a college study skills class has become mandatory. Current retention levels are low, and the hope is that the new measures will increase student persistence. AS the PIACC findings demonstrate our students our lagging. Community colleges are known for their accessibility; students enter at all levels. There is still an opportunity for improvement.

  6. Morning Sarah and Jane, thank you for the detailed comments. There does seem to be a thread through the commentary on the PIAAC results that argues for lifelong learning policies and infrastructure to develop human capital. There also seems to be an ongoing argument for situated literacies (ref in Sallie’s comment above) teaching and learning practices, whether in employment, study, family or other social occupations and which link to aspirational long-term human agendas. With the chaos that exists in the world of individuals’ lives, long-term study requirements suggest a level of stability and flexibility that motivation alone can’t address. Developing high level literacy and numeracy skills through problem solving in technology rich (situated) environments appears to be where we find ourselves.

    We look forward to seeing the research, theory and local implementation of this explored further through our journals, conferences and of course this blog.

  7. I have to say that the only coverage I have seen in Scotland was on-line via the UK wide news media, specifically the BBC News website as described by Tara – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24433320. I waited to be sure that my local weekly paper didn’t have anything because sometimes they pick up national stories, but nothing there either. If I hadn’t been aware that these results were coming out, I would not know. I asked literacies colleagues in Glasgow and their response was the same.
    Based in Dunoon, Argyll and Glasgow

    • Apparently PIAAC didn’t sample in Scotland and Wales. I don’t know what the rationale behind that might have been. Education budgets are devolved and Northern Ireland participated.

  8. Hi Tara, Here’s an interesting paper, ‘First Reactions to the PIAAC Results’ from the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network. This is not ‘media reaction’ per se but provides excellent background in ‘Comparing Previous Surveys’ and an extensive concluding section applicable not only to Canada

    Click to access First-Reactions-to-PIAAC-Brigid-Hayes-October-8-2013.pdf


  1. Building Skills for All: A Review of England | RaPAL

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