Literacy is the ability to understand and use information from written texts in a variety of contexts to achieve goals and develop knowledge and potential. This is a core requirement for developing higher-order skills and for positive economic and social outcomes. Previous studies have shown reading literacy to be closely linked to positive outcomes at work, to social participation, and to lifelong learning.
Unlike previous assessments of literacy, the survey evaluates adults’ ability to read digital texts (e.g. texts containing hyper-text and navigation features, such as scrolling or clicking on links) as well as traditional print-based texts.
To provide more detailed information about adults with poor literacy skills, the literacy assessment in this survey is complemented by a test of “reading component” skills. These are the basic set of decoding skills that enable individuals to extract meaning from written texts: knowledge of vocabulary, ability to process meaning at the level of the sentence, and fluency in reading passages of text.
Numeracy is the ability to use, apply, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas. It is an essential skill in an age when individuals encounter an increasing amount and wide range of quantitative and mathematical information in their daily lives. Numeracy is a skill parallel to reading literacy, and it is important to assess how these competencies interact, since they are distributed differently across subgroups of the population.
Problem solving in technology-rich environments
This refers to the ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish complex tasks. It is not a measurement of “computer literacy”, but rather of the cognitive skills required in the information age – an age in which the accessibility of boundless information has made it essential for people to be able to decide what information they need, to evaluate it critically, and to use it to solve problems. In this survey, higher-order skills are identified along with basic proficiency.
The PIAAC background questionnaire includes a range of information regarding the factors which influence the development and maintenance of skills such as education, social background, engagement with literacy and numeracy and ICTs, languages, as well as information on outcomes which may be related to skills. Information is collected on the current activity of respondents, employment status and income. In terms of non-economic outcomes, PIAAC includes questions on health status, volunteering, political efficacy and social trust.