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Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia

Statistics about the competencies of Australians in the domains of literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills in technology-rich environments

Reference period
2011 - 2012

Background characteristics

Background information

Introduction

The modern economy is marked by an increasing demand for information-processing skills and other high level cognitive and interpersonal skills. The availability and appropriate use of these skills is essential for continuing growth in economic productivity (see OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. The report is available from the OECD website at www.oecd.org). Individuals with poorer skills are at risk of not being able to participate fully in the labour market, education and training and social and civic life. The 2011–12 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was developed to provide a greater understanding of the availability of key skills in society and their use at work and at home, in participating countries. The distinctive component of PIAAC was the direct measurement of three critical information-processing skills: literacy; numeracy; and problem solving in technology-rich environments (PSTRE). For people with the required computer skills, this was done on a notebook computer. People without these skills were able to undertake a paper-based test for literacy and numeracy. PIAAC also collected information on demographic characteristics, education and training, employment, income and skill use in everyday life and at work. For more detail refer to the PIAAC Data Item List available from the Data downloads section of this publication.

About this survey

The following commentary presents data for the 2011–12 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Respondents to this survey completed tasks designed to assess their skills in literacy, numeracy and PSTRE. Scores for each skill were derived on a scale ranging from 0 to 500 points before being grouped into levels.

For literacy and numeracy, proficiency scores have been grouped into six skill levels with Below Level 1 being the lowest level and Level 5 the highest. For PSTRE scores have been grouped into four skill levels with Below Level 1 being the lowest level and Level 3 the highest. For a full description of the skill levels, refer to Scores and skill levels.

For PSTRE, respondents who did not undertake information-processing tasks were included in the 'Not classified' category, which covered people who had 'No computer experience', 'Opted out of computer based assessment' and 'Failed Information and Communication Technology Core'.

For all three domains, literacy, numeracy and PSTRE, a 'missing' category exists for respondents who did not receive a proficiency score because they did not answer sufficient questions in the background questionnaire.

Previously released in ALLS and SAL publications are not directly comparable with PIAAC data. For further information refer to the Data Comparability section of the Methodology page.

Skill levels in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments

Around 3.7% (620,000) of Australians aged 15 to 74 years had literacy skills at Below Level 1, a further 10% (1.7 million) at Level 1, 30% (5.0 million) at Level 2, 38% (6.3 million) at Level 3, 14% (2.4 million) at Level 4, and 1.2% (200,000) at Level 5.

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For numeracy, the figures were somewhat lower. Close to 6.5% (1.1 million) of Australians had numeracy skills at Below Level 1, 15% (2.5 million) at Level 1, 32% (5.4 million) at Level 2, 31% (5.2 million) at Level 3 , 11% (1.8 million) at Level 4 and 1.4% (230,000) at Level 5.

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For PSTRE, an estimated 25% (4.2 million) of Australians aged 15 to 74 years were not classified. Just over 13% (2.2 million) of Australians were assessed at Below Level 1 and 31% (5.3 million) were assessed at Level 1. Around 25% (4.1 million) had skills at Level 2, and 3.2% (540,000) at Level 3.

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Sex

There were only minor differences between men and women for literacy and PSTRE. Overall, 44% (3.7 million) of men and 45% (3.7 million) of women had literacy skills at Level 2 or below. Fifty four per cent (4.5 million) of men and 53% (4.4 million) of women were assessed at Level 3 or above.

Similarly, for PSTRE, 24% (2 million) of men were not classified, while 46% (3.8 million) of men were assessed at Level 1 or below and 29% (2.4 million) at Level 2 or above. In comparison, 26% (2.2 million) of women were not classified while 44% (3.7 million) of women were assessed at Level 1 or below and 27% (2.3 million) at Level 2 or above.

In contrast, for numeracy there was a marked difference by sex. Approximately 49% (4.1 million) of men had skills at Level 2 or below, and 49% (4.1 million) at Level 3 or above, compared to 59% (4.9 million) of women at Level 2 or below and 38% (3.2 million) at Level 3 or above.

Age

One of the main objectives of PIAAC was to measure variation in skill levels by age. The literacy and numeracy domains were characterised by an increase in assessed scores from the youngest age group, plateauing in the late 20s, and then declining from the late 40s. For example, the percentage of people with literacy skills at Level 3 or above was 54% for people aged 15 to 19 years, 63% for people aged 25 to 34 years, 54% for people aged 45 to 54 years and 28% for people aged 65 to 74 years. The percentage of people with numeracy skills at Level 3 or above was 42% for people aged 15 to 19 years, 51% for people aged 25 to 34 years, 45% for people aged 45 to 54 years and 24% for people aged 65 to 74 years. A factor in this age pattern may be the impact of education and work experience. Young people are still gaining education and experience, while elderly people have lower levels of educational attainment.

The situation for PSTRE is complicated by the high proportion of people 'not classified' at older ages, many of whom lacked the basic mouse skills required to undertake the computer-based test. The proportion of respondents who were not classified increased from around one in ten for the youngest age groups to almost 60% for the oldest age group, 65 to 74 years.

Younger women had relatively higher scores in literacy, numeracy and PSTRE compared to men than older women. Fewer older women had literacy skills at Level 3 or above, than their male counterparts, but among the youngest age groups there was no significant difference. The situation was similar for PSTRE, where older women were less likely than older men to be at Level 2 or above, but among younger people there was no significant difference. For numeracy, more men were assessed at Level 3 or above than women at all ages, but the difference, which was 10 percentage points or higher for older ages, was lower for younger ages.

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State and territory

There were small differences in the proficiency scores for the three domains by state or territory, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) which had a larger proportion of people at higher levels in all domains. In the ACT, 67% were at literacy Level 3 or above, followed by 56% in Queensland. The numeracy figures were led by the ACT with 59% at Level 3 or above, followed by Queensland with 46%. The ACT also scored highest for PSTRE with 44% at Level 2 or above, followed by Victoria with 29%.

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Labour force status

Employed people were assessed as having higher skills in all three domains than people who were not in the labour force. Among employed people, 61% had literacy skills at Level 3 or above, compared to 40% for people not in the labour force. Of employed people, 51% were assessed as having numeracy skills at Level 3 or above compared to 29% of people not in the labour force. Some 34% of employed people were assessed as having problem solving in technology-rich environments (PSTRE) skills at Level 2 or above compared to 17% of people not in the labour force.

In general, the scores of unemployed people were higher than scores of people not in the labour force but lower than the scores of employed people. Fifty four per cent of the unemployed achieved a literacy score at Level 3 or above, 43% a numeracy score at Level 3 or above, and 27% a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above.

Skills in all three domains were high for people working full time, among whom, 63% were assessed as having literacy skills, and 54% numeracy skills at Level 3 or above, and 34% a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above. For people working part time, 59% scored literacy skills, and 45% numeracy skills, at Level 3 or above, and 32% PSTRE skills at Level 2 or above.

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Full-time employed men and, particularly, full-time employed women had high skill levels. Sixty one per cent of men and 67% of women working full time had attained a literacy score at Level 3 or above. Among unemployed people, 50% of men and 58% of women had achieved literacy scores at Level 3 or above. Forty per cent of men and 39% of women not in the labour force were assessed as having a literacy score at Level 3 or above.

Among full-time workers, 56% of men and 51% of women were assessed as having a numeracy score at Level 3 or above. Of unemployed people, 45% of men and 40% of women had a numeracy score at Level 3 or above, as did 35% of men and 26% of women not in the labour force.

Among the full-time employed, 32% of men and 39% of women had a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above. Twenty two per cent of unemployed men and 33% of unemployed women had a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above, as did 20% of men and 16% of women not in the labour force.

For each age group, employed men and women were generally more likely than men and women who were not employed to have literacy and numeracy scores at Level 3 or above, and PSTRE scores at Level 2 or above. The percentage point difference was lowest amongst the youngest age groups where many people not in employment were studying for a qualification. For example, among men aged 20 to 24 years, 57% of employed and also of not employed men were assessed as having literacy Level 3 or above. In comparison, for men aged 25 to 34 years, 65% of employed men achieved a literacy score at Level 3 or above, compared to 45% of not employed men.

Employed people

There was substantial variation for employed persons aged 15 to 64 years in assessed scores in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments (PSTRE) by the industry in which they worked. People who worked in 'Professional, Scientific and Technical Services' had particularly high scores in literacy (78% at Level 3 or above), numeracy (70% at Level 3 or above), and PSTRE (50% at Level 2 or above). There were also high scores in all three domains for people who worked in 'Education and Training', 'Public Administration and Safety' and 'Information Media and Telecommunications'. Scores among people who worked in some other industries such as 'Manufacturing', 'Construction' and 'Administrative and Support Services' were lower. Among people who worked in Construction, 46% were assessed at Level 3 or above for literacy, 44% for numeracy, and 18% at Level 2 or above for PSTRE.

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There was even greater variation in proficiency scores by occupation. Among 'Professionals', 83% had a literacy score at Level 3 or above, 74% a numeracy score at Level 3 or above, while 55% had a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above. High scores were also recorded by 'Managers'. Much lower scores were recorded by 'Machinery Operators and Drivers' and 'Labourers'. Scores for labourers were 38% for literacy at Level 3 or above, 32% for numeracy at Level 2 or above, and 15% for PSTRE at Level 2 or above.

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People with higher scores in all three domains generally had higher income from wages and salaries. Of people employed full time who were in the highest income decile, 84% achieved a literacy Level 3 or above, compared to 40% of people in the lowest income decile. Similarly, 81% of full-time employees in the highest income decile achieved a numeracy Level 3 or above, compared to 29% of people in the lowest income decile. For PSTRE, 51% of full-time employees in the highest income decile were assessed at Level 2 or above, compared to 18% of people in the lowest income decile.

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Education

Attainment

People who had attained a higher education qualification (Bachelor degree and above) were more likely than others to have achieved a score at Level 3 or above in literacy and numeracy, and Level 2 or above in problem solving in technology-rich environments (PSTRE). Among people whose highest qualification was a Postgraduate degree (Masters degree or higher), 82% had a literacy score of Level 3 or above, while for people whose highest qualification was a Bachelor degree, 77% had a literacy score of Level 3 or above. For the people whose highest qualification was a Postgraduate degree, 77% had a numeracy score at Level 3 or above, and 50% had a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above. In contrast, among people without a non-school qualification 44% had a literacy score and 34% a numeracy score at Level 3 or above, and 22% a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above).

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There is considerable variation in skill levels by the field of study of the highest non-school qualification. A high proportion of people whose qualification was in 'Natural and Physical Sciences', achieved a score at Level 3 or above in literacy (81%) and numeracy (74%), and Level 2 or above in PSTRE (49%). Other groupings have much lower proportions. Of people whose qualification was in 'Architecture and Building', 47% achieved a literacy score and 45% a numeracy score at Level 3 or above and, and 19% a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above. The differences reflect, in part, the level of non-school qualification undertaken. For example, a higher proportion of persons in 'architecture and building' studied in vocational education, whereas most people studying in 'Natural and Physical Sciences' attained a Bachelor degree or higher.

Participation

Among the 16.3 million people for whom a skill level was measured, 2.3 million (14%) were studying for a non-school qualifcation. People who were studying for a Bachelor degree or higher were much more likely than people studying for a lower level qualification to have attained a score at Level 3 or above in literacy and numeracy and Level 2 or above in PSTRE. For people studying for a Bachelor degree, 80% had a literacy score at Level 3 or above compared with 54% studying a Certificate III/IV, and 34% doing a Certificate I/II.

Among people studying a Bachelor's degree 66% were assessed for numeracy at Level 3 or above. In comparison 40% of people studying a Certificate III/IV were at Level 3 or above and 28% of people studying for a Certificate I/II.

For PSTRE, 59% of people studying a Bachelor degree were at Level 2 or above, compared to 32% of people studying a Certificate III/IV and 23% studying a Certificate I/II.

Selected characteristics

Self-assessed health

A high proportion of people that reported excellent or very good health achieved Level 3 or above for literacy (61%) and numeracy (50%), and for problem solving in technology-rich environments (PSTRE), at Level 2 or above (34%). In comparison, 40% of people with poor or fair health attained a literacy score of Level 3 or above, 30% a numeracy score at level 3 or above, and 18% a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above. It should be noted that a much higher proportion of older people than younger people reported poor or fair health as compared to excellent or very good health. Given that scores were lower at older ages, this explains part of the association between poorer health and skill levels. Nevertheless, for each age range people with poorer health had lower scores. For example among people aged 15 to 24 years, 62% of those reporting excellent or very good health achieved a score at Level 3 or above for literacy, 50% for numeracy, and 43% a PSTRE score at Level 2 or above. In comparison among people aged 15 to 24 years with fair or poor heath 45% were assessed at Level 3 or above for literacy, 28% for numeracy and 36% were scored at Level 2 or above for PSTRE. Of people aged 65 to 74 years with excellent or very good health, 38% were assessed at Level 3 or above for literacy, 32% for numeracy and 6.7% achieved a PSTRE score of Level 2 or above. For people aged 65 to 74 years with fair or poor health, 18% were assessed at Level 3 or above for literacy, 16% for numeracy and 2.4% for PSTRE.

Country of birth

Among people born in Australia, 57% achieved a literacy score at Level 3 or above, 46% at numeracy Level 3 or above, and 30% at PSTRE Level 2 or above. For people born outside Australia, 49% had skills at literacy Level 3 or above, 40% at numeracy Level 3 or above and 24% at PSTRE Level 2 or above. However, there were large differences by country of birth. For people born in the United Kingdom, 62% achieved a literacy score at Level 3 or above, 50% at numeracy Level 3 or above, and 29% at PSTRE Level 2 or above. For people born in Malaysia, 69% were assessed at literacy Level 3 or above, 60% at numeracy Level 3 or above, and 29% at PSTRE Level 2 or above. Among people born in South Africa, 65% attained a literacy score at Level 3 or above, 58% at numeracy Level 3 or above, and 45% at PSTRE Level 2 or above. In comparison, 17% of people born in Italy had literacy skills at literacy Level 3 or above, 13% at numeracy Level 3 or above and only 0.7% at PSTRE Level 2 or above. There were very large differences in the the age structure of people born in different countries, and this will have affected the scores attained.

Language first spoken

People whose first language was not English were more likely to be assessed at lower skill levels. Among this population, 25% were assessed at Level 1 or below, compared to 12% of people whose first language was English.

Thirty three per cent of people whose first language was not English, were assessed at numeracy Level 1 or below, while 20% of people whose first language was English attained a score at Level 1 or below. Of people whose first language was not English, 35% were not classified for PSTRE, and an additional 47% attained Level 1 or below. Conversely, of people whose first language was English, 23% were not classified for PSTRE, and 46% attained Level 1 or below.

Among people whose first language was not English and who were born outside Australia, proficiency levels were low, with 28% of these people attaining literacy scores at Level 1 or below. In comparison, 11% of people who were born outside Australia but whose first language was English were assessed as having a literacy score at Level 1 or below.

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Of people whose first language was not English and who were born outside Australia, 36% had numeracy skills at Level 1 or below, whereas 18% did so among people born outside Australia and whose first language was English.

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Of people whose first language was not English and who were born outside Australia, 38% were not classified for PSTRE, and 45% had skills at Level 1 or below. In comparison, 24% of people born outside Australia whose first language was English were not classified, and 43% were assessed at Level 1 or below.

A high proportion of older people, whose first language was not English, attained scores at Level 1 or below for literacy and numeracy. For people aged 55 to 74 years, 46% had literacy scores at Level 1 or below, compared with 16% of people aged 15 to 34 years. For numeracy, 53% of people aged 55 to 74 years had skills at Level 1 or below compared with 23% of people aged 15 to 34 years.

Inquiries

For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.

Data downloads

Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2011-12

10/10/1013 The first data cube titled 'Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2011-12' was replaced due to minor formatting issues. Also Table 4 of the data cube required a minor update to the totals of the Estimates and Proportions for Numeracy.

Data item list

Adult literacy and numeracy skills, 1996, 2006, 2011-12

15/01/2014 Data based on remodelled literacy scores (from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS) 2006 and Survey of Aspects of Literacy (SAL) 1996) and numeracy scores (from ALLS) has been released in additional data cubes. Refer to the Comparability of Time Series section of the 2011-12 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) Methdology page for further information about comparing ALLS and SAL data with PIAAC.

Skill levels of persons by state or territory of usual residence, 2011-12

This release presents additional datacubes for Skill levels of persons by state and territory.

Skill levels of persons by selected characteristics, 2011-12

This release presents additional datacubes for Skill Use levels of persons for selected characteristics.

History of changes

Show all

25/03/2014 - Additional datacubes on skill levels by state and territory, and selected characteristics released.

15/01/2014 - Data based on remodelled literacy scores (from ALLS and SAL) and numeracy scores (from ALLS) released in additional data cubes. Refer to the Comparability of Time Series section of the PIAAC Methodology page for further information about comparing ALLS and SAL data with PIAAC.

10/10/2013 - The first data cube titled 'Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2011-12' was replaced due to minor formatting issues. Also Table 4 of the data cube required a minor update to the totals of the Estimates and Proportions for Numeracy.

9/10/2013 - A new product has been released in this series of international surveys of adult literacy skills, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), 2011–12. Data previously released in the ALLS and SAL publications are not directly comparable with PIAAC data. Data based on remodelled literacy scores (from ALLS and SAL) and numeracy scores (from ALLS) will be included in additional data cubes when the data become available. Refer to the Comparability of Time Series section of the PIAAC Methodology page for further information about comparing ALLS and SAL data with PIAAC.

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4228.0.