Singapore Made Significant Progress in Enhancing the Literacy, Numeracy and Problem Solving Skills of our People

Published Date: 28 June 2016 12:00 AM

News Press Releases

1. Singapore, 28 June 2016 – The OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)1 showed that young adults in Singapore aged 16-34 performed well in terms of problem solving in technology-rich environments, numeracy and literacy skills compared to most OECD countries, while older adults in Singapore aged 55-65 attained literacy and numeracy scores that were considerably below the average of OECD countries. The results appear to reflect the progress Singapore has made in education and skills training over the years. The relatively weak performance of older adults also reflects the fact that the survey was conducted in English, which is not widely used among older Singaporeans.

2. PIAAC assesses the proficiency of adults in three key information processing skills: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. These skills are relevant to adults in many social contexts and work situations, and are often necessary for adults to actively participate in the labour market, education and training, and social and civic life. About 5,400 adults, comprising Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents aged between 16 and 65, participated in the study which covered 342 economies.

Singapore Made the Greatest Gains in Average Scores between Older and Younger Cohorts

3. According to the PIAAC study, adults in Singapore aged 16 to 34 ranked second in problem solving, fifth in numeracy and ninth in literacy (see Annex A). However, older adults aged 45 to 65 performed lower than the OECD average in literacy and numeracy. Among the 34 economies participating in PIAAC, Singapore made the greatest gains in average scores between the older and younger cohorts (see Annex B). The PIAAC assessments were conducted in English in Singapore. The lower levels of English usage and the relatively low levels of educational attainment of older adults contributed to the wide dispersion of proficiency scores in Singapore.

4. More importantly, these differences reflect the improvements made in our education and training system over the past 50 years. These include the rapid expansion of schools, an increase in participation rates in education at all grade levels, enhancements to the education curricula, the introduction of learning support programmes and an expansion in post-secondary educational opportunities. These enabled subsequent generations of younger adults to experience significant progress in skills attainment. The results also reflect the importance of quality education in building skills proficiency, and the need for lifelong learning so our older workers can remain employable and continue to contribute economically and socially.

Employers demand and reward proficiency in literacy and numeracy

5. All participating economies in the PIAAC study exhibited a positive relationship between proficiency in literacy and numeracy and hourly wages. This suggests that literacy and numeracy skills are demanded and rewarded by the labour market.

6. Singapore exhibited one of the strongest relationships between proficiency in literacy/numeracy and wages, ranking third for wage returns to literacy skills3 (see Annex C).

7. Singapore ranked 10th for participation in structured training (see Annex D). Employers also recognise the value of continual development of skills, with close to 80% of job-related training being funded by employers.

Employers could continue to do more to ensure workers’ skills are used effectively

8. The PIAAC study also found that jobs in Singapore require frequent use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), numeracy and reading skills. Among the 34 economies surveyed, Singapore ranked first for the use of ICT skills, sixth for numeracy skills and seventh for reading skills (see Annex E).

9. Many employers offer training and flexible working hours for workers to upskill (see Annex F). However, employers could make better use of employees’ skills and provide them more room to exercise task discretion, self-direction, and cooperative and influencing skills (see Annex G).

10. As Singapore restructures itself into an innovative and manpower-lean economy, employers must play an important role in their workplace practices in areas such as work organisation, job design and management practices. These factors are likely to influence the extent of skills used in the workplace and work productivity. Employers can continue to tap SkillsFuture and other Government initiatives, and provide training opportunities that will help workers develop relevant skills aligned to current and future workplace needs.

SkillsFuture as a critical enabler

11. Commenting on the findings, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), said: “The PIAAC study validates the effectiveness and strength of our education and training system in preparing our young for their careers. It also underscores the need for lifelong learning, so that older workers can keep their skills up to date and can continue to contribute. We are working hard to integrate education and lifelong learning into a seamless system under SkillsFuture, to better respond to the needs of a small, fast changing economy.”

12. Other than employer-driven up-skilling, individuals can tap on various SkillsFuture initiatives such as the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme, SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy, SkillsFuture Study Awards and SkillsFuture Credit to develop and deepen their skills, so that they can stay current, competitive and employable.

13. The PIAAC study was conducted in Singapore from April 2014 to January 2015. The findings were released today by the Institute for Adult Learning (IAL) – which is part of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) – as well as the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

  1. PIAAC is also known as the OECD Survey of Adult Skills.

  2. The analysis for the United Kingdom (UK) is done separately for England and Northern Ireland, and hence the comparison across 33 countries reflects 34 economies.

  3. Wage returns to literacy skills in PIAAC are measured by the average increase in wages that are associated with an increase in literacy proficiency scores.
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