Singapore to take part in Survey of Adult Skills

Students in Singapore consistently ace international tests in maths, science and problem-solving but now it is the adults' turn to see how they measure up.

A series of tests has been devised to assess literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, a method millions of 15-year-olds around the world have already discovered with Pisa, or the Programme for International Student Assessment.

About 5,000 people aged from 16 to 65 in Singapore have been picked for the exercise - known as the Survey of Adult Skills - which will assess literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills.

Nine other countries are participating in the second round of the survey, which is being conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It started last month.

The first round involved 23 countries and was held last year, with results released in October.

All in, there are 32 countries participating, with the overall findings out in 2016.

The OECD noted on its website that the study aims to analyse the level and distribution of key cognitive and workplace skills. The data will help countries better understand how education and training can nurture these skills, it said.

Dr Gog Soon Joo, executive director of the Institute for Adult Learning (IAL), a division of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, said Singapore saw value in participating.

She said the study will provide a good measure of the skill levels in the adult population.

"With this detailed level of data collected, we would be able to have a more comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the human capital development here," she said.

Dr Gog added that the data will enable policymakers to better understand the factors that influence the skill levels of adults and how they impact their job, income and continuing education.

"This is an opportunity for us to measure ourselves against, and at the same time learn from, other participating countries on how their education and training systems are developed and managed."

IAL, which is conducting the survey under the supervision of an inter-government agency, said random sampling was used to select participants who are representative of Singapore's adult population.

They will sit the test on a computer, or with paper and pencil for those who are not IT literate.

Surveyors will also visit their homes to collect a broad range of information, including how skills are used at work and in the community.

In the first round last year, the OECD assessed skills in literacy and facility with basic mathematics, or numeracy, in all 23 countries. Participants in 19 countries were also assessed on their ability to use digital devices to find and evaluate information, communicate and perform common tasks.

Japan ranked first in all three fields, with Finland second in average scores. The Netherlands, Sweden and Norway were also near the top. Spain, Italy and France were at or near the bottom in literacy and numeracy.

The United States ranked around the middle in literacy but near the bottom in skills with numbers and technology. Yet it also showed that it had an advantage in having high skill levels at the top, being big and more flexible than the other economies - all key factors in its ability to attract other countries' most skilled labour.

Labour economist Randolph Tan, of SIM University, said the overall survey results will help benchmark Singapore workers against their peers while also revealing skills gaps.

"If you look at the published Korean data, for instance, it shows a large age-related gap," he noted, referring to younger Korean adults performing much better than the older workers in the study.

"It will be interesting to see if there are similar gaps in the Singapore population and also since Singapore is a small country, we need to compare our adult skill levels with other countries'."

This article was published on May 7 in The Straits Times.

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