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What the PIAAC suggests

Kenichi Arai, Chairperson of CRET


Recently, the OECD published the results of Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). With people of 16 to 65 years old from 24 countries, this door-to-door survey was conducted in three categories: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology rich-environments. Japan scored the best results. The aim of the PIAAC is to evaluate the level of these skills themselves, and to apply the results in policy making by clarifying their relation to school education, as well as economic and social performance. In the report, it is stated that the PIAAC positively correlates to economic and social performance, such as wages, political efficacy and voluntary activities. In addition, although it is not possible to make a direct comparison between the PISA and PIAAC because they have different content and approaches, we can assume that school education has a great significance, as we can see that countries ranked high in the PISA are also ranked high in the PIAAC. Therefore, we can say that the skills surveyed in this PIAAC are essential and important skills for adults to possess, and that they are deeply related to school education. We should be delighted about the fact Japan was ranked top in this kind of survey, even though Japan is the only country among those surveyed with a population of over 100 million people. In addition, although we sometimes see a tendency in which the dispersion becomes greater when the population size is larger due to regional gaps for example, the gap between the higher and lower layers remains narrow in this survey. From these results, we can assume that the high-level school education system covering the whole of the country, as well as formal social education such as employee training in corporations and informal social education provided daily through newspapers, TV, publications, the Internet and other various media, function well in Japan.


However, we certainly need some improvement. In the distribution by age, we see a similar tendency between the OECD average and Japan: This increases from the age of 16 to around 30, but then decreases as people get older. In regards to literacy and numeracy, Japan is above the OECD average for all ages; however, Japan’s problem solving skills in technology rich-environments is at the level of the OECD average for young adults from 16 years old and for senior adults in their 60s. The level of workplace practice is lower than the OECD average, while that of the United States and Australia is higher. This is something that Japan has to improve because problem solution skills are crucial ones that will be required in society in the future, and it is meaningless if we are not actually able to solve problems no matter how much knowledge we possess. It will be essential to try solving problems through the active use of IT in business and to implement IT in school education. We will also need to let students have enough experience to build a necessary foundation for that. Moreover, the reason why we should not be satisfied with the results at this time without reservation is because the range of the survey is limited. While calling it "adult competencies," such capabilities for scientific thinking, creativity, innovation, and English were not surveyed and thus we are naturally not able to evaluate them. We may guess that there is a correlation, but we cannot be sure about this. Therefore, it is important that we should be content only with the revealed results, and remain calm to see the other factors.


In recent years, the employment system in Japan has been changing, and so we should not expect that corporations will keep on providing social education in the same manner as they currently do. From now on, it will be necessary to seek a new social system that supports our lifelong learning society in which people can learn the skills found in different corporations, rather than the skills distributed only within a single corporation as today. Currently, compared to other countries, Japan has an extremely low rate of people who go to university at the age of 25 or older. Still, there must be sufficient resources in this country. I hope universities will take on the task of performing these functions in the future.
(November 13, 2013)

Kenichi Arai

Chairperson, Center for Research on Educational Testing / Chairperson, Board of Directors, Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute

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