Literacy Levels In Adults Improving Across Northern Ireland


THE results from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) International Survey of Adult Skills (ISAS) for Northern Ireland, which indicate that adult literacy levels have improved over the last decade were published today (7 October).

The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) was responsible for administering the ISAS in England and Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in England and the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland. The survey examined the proficiency levels of adults aged 16-65 in Northern Ireland in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in a technology rich environment (ICT) skills. Key findings revealed that the proportion of Northern Ireland’s working age population performing at the lowest levels of literacy has improved and fallen from 23% in 1996 to 18% in 2012. dn_screen

This positive performance has resulted in the gap between Northern Ireland and the OECD average reducing from 11 points (on a 500 point scale) in 1996 to four points in 2012. The pace of Northern Ireland’s improvement is better than most other participating OECD countries. Unlike England, Northern Ireland’s younger people (16-24) perform better than 55-65 year olds.

Minister  Farry said: “The report indicates that my Department’s Essential Skills for Living Strategy is working, and, at a pace better than a number of other participating OECD countries. To date, nearly 147,000 people have achieved almost 193,000 Essential Skills qualifications. This strategy has delivered results since it was launched 10 years ago with over 352,000 enrolments on Essential Skills courses. Those adults who have taken part now have the skills to do their job better and have a real chance to progress and improve their lives and career choices.

“However, the research indicates that more needs to be done to continue to improve literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills levels in Northern Ireland. Skills transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. Getting the best returns on investment in skills requires good information about the skills that are needed and available in the labour market. The results from this report will further assist in tailoring future adult learning provision in the areas of literacy, numeracy and ICT.

“I will also be working with the Minister for Education to ensure that young people have every opportunity to develop their literacy, numeracy, ICT and employability skills while at school or by offering Essential Skills through my Department’s programmes.”

The OECD survey tested more than 150,000 adults aged 16-65 in 25 countries, including England and Northern Ireland. Assessments of literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments abilities measured what people know and how they use their skills at work. Key findings from the report include:

*  The percentage of Northern Ireland adults aged 16-65 performing at Level 1 or below in literacy (these are the lowest levels of literacy proficiency with Level 5 being the highest) has fallen from 23% in 1996 to 18%.

Overall, the trend between the two surveys is more positive for Northern Ireland than for many other countries that participated in both IALS and ISAS. Only Poland, Italy, Australia and England showed significant increases in literacy scores since 1996.

*  Northern Ireland’s literacy levels were higher than France, Italy and Spain. A number of countries including England, Denmark, Germany and the Republic of Ireland had literacy levels which were broadly the same as those for Northern Ireland.

*  Those that earn most in Northern Ireland are also those with the highest level literacy, numeracy or problem solving skills.

*  Those adults with lower levels of educational attainment perform less well on literacy, numeracy and problem solving.

*  Northern Ireland’s numeracy levels were below the OECD average however they were significantly better than the USA, France, Italy and Spain.

*  Northern Ireland’s performance in problem solving in a technology-rich environment skills was below the OECD average.

The report is available to download from the Department’s website at: