PIAAC: The Importance of Skills and How to Assess them

Educational Testing Service (ETS), an American non-profit organisation, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) hosted the PIAAC Invitational Research Conference on 13–15 November 2013 in Washington DC. Some 260 researchers, experts and policymakers from 33 countries participated, including UIL Director Arne Carlsen.

The first round of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was conducted by the OECD in 2011–2012 and involved more than 160,000 adults aged between 16–65 in 22 OECD countries and two OECD partner countries. Nine other countries have decided to participate in the second round of the study, the results of which will be published in 2016.

The conference discussed a variety of issues related to adult learning, including how skills are used at work, the acquisition and decline of literacy skills over a lifetime, the use of PIAAC results to produce regional estimates, and the relationship of problem solving to literacy and numeracy. UIL Director Arne Carlsen addressed the concluding policy seminar entitled ‘Where PIAAC can make a difference’. He expressed his desire to see more policy-relevant analysis and research papers in the coming years based on the rich data contained in PIAAC. He suggested that the OECD could join forces with UNESCO, which recently published its second Global Report on Adult Learning and Education, to encourage governments to invest more in adult education, recognising the growing importance of skills and their relation to educational, social and economic outcomes. He also reflected on UNESCO’s four pillars of learning: learning to be, learning to do, learning to know and learning to live together, of which PIAAC has attempted to measure three functional skills – literacy, numeracy and problem-solving on a computer. He identified a possible future synergy between the OECD/PIAAC and the new UN global development agenda on ‘quality education and lifelong learning’ beyond 2015, which views literacy as the foundation of lifelong learning.