Policy brief published: Direct assessments of adult skills and competencies

22 December 2020

Adult numeracy and literacy skills are key to transforming lives, promoting social inclusion and contributing to sustainable societies. Achieving an optimal return on investment with regard to the development of adult skills and competencies requires the collation of comprehensive data to assess what people know, what they do with what they know, and the extent to which they are equipped to sustain themselves in the twenty-first century. To help policy-makers generate these data, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has published a new policy brief focusing on direct assessments of adult skills and competencies.

While collective efforts have led to continuous progress with respect to increasing literacy rates, global data on literacy, based on conventional proxy indicators, remains insufficient to offer a comprehensive picture of the literacy challenge. Currently, only 13 per cent of the world’s countries have data on literacy and numeracy skills based on direct measurements (Subosa and West, 2018).

Yet accurate data on literacy and numeracy is urgently needed if a country is to formulate effective policies and programmes that monitor progress towards achieving national targets. A well-designed full scale direct assessment is the only way to obtain a more accurate skill proficiency distribution of the adult population, to track the progress of sub-groups over time, and to provide sufficient information to develop specific policies. The following recommendations, based on international experiences and the latest research findings, are offered to guide policy-makers in implementing direct assessments in lieu of proxy indicators:

  1. Integrate direct assessment surveys focusing on adult skills into relevant national strategies and policies.
  2. Evaluate existing national infrastructures and capacities for conducting direct assessments and, if necessary, build and strengthen them.
  3. Ensure data are comprehensive and of high quality.
  4. Use the data from direct assessments to make changes locally.

Read the full UIL policy brief, Direct assessments of adult skills and competencies