Singapore adults ‘below average’ in literacy; above average in problem-solving: OECD survey

June 29, 20169:22 am1082 views

SINGAPORE: Adults aged 16 to 65 in the city-state showed below-average proficiency in literacy and numeracy compared to those in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economies, according to the results of a survey released on Tuesday (Jun 28).

OECD noted that a high prevalence of adults whose native language is not English “contributed significantly to the below-average proficiency”.

Hence, younger adults in Singapore – aged 16 to 34 – are above the global average in literacy and numeracy, and were ranked 9th compared to their counterparts in other economies. But older adults in Singapore – or those aged between 45 and 65 – fared worse, and attained some of the lowest scores in literacy and numeracy among all participating economies. More than one in four adults (26.1 per cent) in Singapore are at Level 1 in literacy compared to the OECD average of 18.9 per cent, the survey found. Additionally, almost 28 per cent scored at or below level 1 in numeracy, the lowest level.

The survey’s results also showed that the gap between the most and least proficient adults is wide in Singapore. In all economies participating in the survey, the variability of adults’ scores in literacy is large, but Singapore stands out as the country in which variability in literacy is largest, at 77 score points, compared to the OECD average of 62 score points. Variability in literacy proficiency is “much greater than would be predicted” given the average literacy score of adults living in Singapore, OECD stated.

The survey also found that Singapore adults in the same age range showed above-average proficiency in problem-solving in technology-rich environments. About 7.7 per cent of adults surveyed in Singapore attained the highest proficiency level in problem solving in technology-rich environments, one of the highest percentages across all participating economies and significantly higher than the OECD average of 5.4 per cent.

The survey, conducted in Singapore between April 2014 and January 2015, received responses from about 5,400 adults in the city-state.

It was conducted at the respondents’ homes and lasted an average of one-and-a-half hours.


“The challenge for Singapore is to do more for people in the older generations – to make sure that people have opportunities throughout (their) lives to improve their skills, to have employers actually valuing skills and not just formal degrees and credentials,” said Mr Andreas Schleicher, director of the Directorate for Education and Skills at OECD.

The Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) said the results appear to reflect the progress Singapore has made in education and skills training over the years.

“We need to continue, through SkillsFuture, to invest in our education systems so that learning is spread out across one’s life and there are opportunities for one to build skills over a period of time,” said WDA’s chief executive, Ng Cher Pong.

The survey also found that there is a weak link between an adult’s qualification and his skills, according to Mr Schleicher.

WDA said this underlines the need for employers to recognise the importance of a worker’s skills over his qualifications.

The aim of the survey is to develop an international benchmark on skills level and distribution and understand the importance of skills in relation to the labour market and social outcomes.

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