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Survey shows wide generation gap in adult literacy, skills

An international survey showed Korea had a relatively wide gap between younger and older people in terms of adult literacy and other skills.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Tuesday unveiled the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC.

It is the first international survey that examined adult skill levels in three areas: literacy, numeracy and problem solving.

The survey across 24 countries found that Koreans perform at average or slightly below the average level of proficiency in both literacy and numeracy ― Koreans scored average 273 points and 263 in literacy and numeracy as compared to the OECD average of 273 and 269, respectively.

However, when broken down by generation, Korea showed the widest disparity in skills: Korea is ranked second only to Japan when comparing proficiency among 16 to 24-year-olds, but when comparing the proficiency of 55 to 65-year-olds, it is among the three lowest-performing countries, according to the study.

Finland and Japan both have large shares of top-performers, with roughly every fifth Finn and Japanese reading at high levels and also being good with numbers.

The survey also showed that in Korea significant shares of highly skilled adults have trouble using their skills.

In Finland, for instance, around 16 percent of adults with the highest level of literacy (Level 4 or 5) do not participate in the labor force. While in Korea, nearly 32 percent of adults who score at those levels currently do not participate in the labor market at all, the highest rate among the OECD members.

The survey was conducted between August 2011 and March 2012 with more than 157,000 adults ― Korea surveyed about 6,700 individuals.

The inaugural survey of adult skills provides important baseline information for international comparisons and trend analysis, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria.

“Governments need a clear picture not only of how labor markets and economies are changing, but of the extent to which their citizens are equipping themselves with the skills demanded in the 21st century,” he said in the report.

By Oh Kyu-wook (