Published : 2013-10-10 19:25
Updated : 2013-10-11 10:45
An international study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this week showed a wide gap between younger and older Korean adults in basic skills necessary for modern life.
In its survey of 157,000 people aged 16-65 from 24 member countries, conducted from 2011-12, the OECD measured their literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving skills. Korea was on a par with the OECD average for literacy but lagged behind in numeracy and the ability to use devices and networks.
The generational gap in adult competency was the widest in Korea. Koreans aged 55 and older remained near the bottom of the list in all three categories. But younger Koreans aged 16-24 were the smartest in solving problems with digital know-how. They also ranked fourth and fifth in reading and math, respectively.
From a positive viewpoint, the polarization of skills between older and younger adults can be seen as reflecting the successful result of Korea’s strenuous support for universal education after the devastating 1950-53 Korean War. The OECD survey, titled the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, noted that Korea’s investment in its schools had led to higher competency among younger adults than older adults.
As some commentators here indicate, however, the generational gap may also mirror the phenomenon that most Koreans have become negligent in cultivating their skills at work after graduating from college, which they entered through fierce competition. It seems that Korean parents should try to acquire new skills and knowledge as much as they push their children to study.
But it might be unfair to put all the blame on senior Korean citizens for being left behind by their peers in other countries. Most of them have exhausted themselves contributing to the country’s rapid economic growth throughout their life, with few chances to recharge. Korean companies have paid little attention to retraining older employees.
The findings of the OECD survey should prompt government and corporate officials to strengthen efforts to further promote lifelong education and reemployment assistance training programs. Equipping a growing number of elderly Koreans with upgraded skills and knowledge will be essential to maintain and enhance the country’s international competitiveness.