Low literacy and numeracy skills hurt Australians and the economy

Media release

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Wednesday, 9 Oct 2013


9 October 2013: The existence of large numbers of Australians with low literacy and numeracy skills has a negative impact on individuals, the economy and productivity, according to experts from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Results from the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) were released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Developed with the support of ACER, the study assessed people aged 15-74 years in 25 countries in terms of proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in a technology-rich environment.

Mr David Tout, Senior Research Fellow at ACER and a member of the Numeracy Expert Group for PIAAC, said Australia needs to lift the skill levels of its population to ensure a healthy society and a robust economy.

"The 21st century requires its citizens and workers to have increasingly higher-level literacy and numeracy skills," Mr Tout said.

"Despite stories about those extremely rare individuals who say they have made it without being able to read, write or understand mathematics, research based on international surveys like PIAAC demonstrates that, for the vast majority of people, low levels of literacy and numeracy have a negative impact on their social and economic future," he said.

"It is therefore in the best interests of the individual, of society and of the economy to support and enhance everyone's literacy and numeracy skills," Mr Tout said. "Access to higher levels of literacy and numeracy, no matter the starting point and no matter the age or background, is crucial and has many benefits."

ACER Research Director Ms Juliette Mendelovits, who helped develop PIAAC's literacy assessment, said, "PIAAC is not a simplistic measure that draws a line between the illiterate and the literate – or their equivalents in numeracy. Rather, it assesses across continua of developing literacy and numeracy, measuring adults' ability to engage with a broad range of literacy and numeracy tasks typically encountered in the 21st century. As such the results need to be mined and explored in order to understand the challenges that Australia faces in these vital areas of adult, vocational and workplace education."

The PIAAC study is linked with previous international adult literacy surveys, allowing trends over the past 17 years to be monitored. The release in December of results from a similar international study, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), will enable further comparison and analysis of trends, especially given that both surveys include the performance of 15-year olds.

"These international assessments can inform our practices in post-compulsory education, for lifelong learning and for full participation as an individual, as a community member and as a worker," Mr Tout said.

ACER’s annual National Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Assessment conference for 2014 will focus on the results of the PIAAC and PISA studies and their implications for Australia.


Media enquiries: Megan Robinson, Corporate Communications Officer

Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
Phone: (03) 9277 5582
Mobile: 0419 340 058
Email: communications@acer.edu.au

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