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Vocational & Adult
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International study reveals serious adult literacy and numeracy problems

Preliminary results from an OECD study released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in February reveal that many adult Australians do not possess the literacy and numeracy skills necessary to participate fully in modern life and work.

Called the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and developed with the support of the Australian Council for Educational Research, the study assesses adults 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, 'The results of this study mean Australia still has much work to do in the area of workplace and vocational education and training (VET).'

The preliminary PIAAC results from 2011-12 show that about 7.3 million or 44 per cent of adult Australians achieved in the lowest two bands for literacy, while about 8.9 million or 55 per cent achieved in the lowest two bands for numeracy.

Of significance for employers and those in the VET sector, PIAAC also shows that 38 per cent of employed adults achieved in the lowest two bands for literacy, while 48 per cent achieved in the lowest two bands for numeracy.

'This is an alarming result for a country that needs to lift the skill levels of its population to ensure a healthy society and a robust economy,' Mr Tout said. 

Mr Tout said a key issue is whether trainers, teachers and learner support staff in the VET sector themselves have the skills and tools to accurately identify the literacy and numeracy skills of their learners.

'A second key issue is whether, once identified, they have the skills, resources and time to actively develop learners’ literacy and numeracy alongside their other competency based learning,' Mr Tout explained.

To address both key issues, ACER is bringing together evidence-based researchers with industry and training stakeholders at the annual National Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Assessment Conference to build professional skills around the assessment of literacy and numeracy in VET in May.

Mr Tout and ACER Research Director Ms Juliette Mendelovits will be speaking about PIAAC at the conference. ■

ACER’s second annual National Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Assessment Conference, addressing the theme ‘Building on evidence to improve skills,’ will be held at Ultimo College, Sydney Institute, on 9-10 May.

Further information on the conference is available at <www.acer.edu.au/nallnac>

Preliminary results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies study are available at the ABS website.

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