NI lagging behind in OECD literacy and numeracy study

Exam hall Survey participants had to complete a set of assessments and a questionnaire

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Adult literacy and numeracy skills in Northern Ireland are broadly similar to counterparts in England and the Republic of Ireland, but well below countries like Japan, Finland and the Netherlands.

A major study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) puts Northern Ireland 19th out of 24 both in numeracy and literacy.

The average score for Northern Ireland was significantly below the OECD average.

A total of 3,761 people aged between 16 and 65 were surveyed in Northern Ireland for the international report.

Each person had to answer a background questionnaire and complete a set of assessments.

The report suggested that since 1996, overall literacy levels in Northern Ireland had significantly improved.

Start Quote

The OECD's unsettling conclusion is that the stock of skills available in England and Northern Ireland is 'bound to decline over the next decades unless significant action is taken to improve skills proficiency among people'”

End Quote Robert Peston BBC business editor

While Northern Ireland's literacy and numeracy levels were better than France, Italy and Spain and broadly similar to England and the Republic of Ireland, the top performing countries of Japan, Finland and the Netherlands were some way ahead.

A report based on the survey's findings for the Department of Employment and Learning concluded that "fewer Northern Ireland adults are performing at the lowest literacy levels".

It added: "The results show that literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills are well-rewarded in the Northern Ireland labour market with those individuals who have the highest skills earning the most.

"Nevertheless, despite these improvements, working-age adult competencies have some way to go to match the best performing countries in literacy, numeracy and problem solving."

This landmark study from the OECD set out to measure the level of skills within the adult population - testing actual ability in literacy, numeracy and digital skills, rather than looking at qualifications.

It involved 166,000 adults taking tests in 24 education systems, representing populations of 724 million people. From the UK, adults in England and Northern Ireland participated.

The study looked at the level of skills across the adult population, between the ages of 16 and 65.

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