Japan Tops in Literacy, Numeracy but Average in Tech Skills

Japan ranked tops among 24 OECD nations in adult literacy and numeracy but only 10th in tech problem-solving skills, according to the results of a survey released Tuesday.

In literacy and numeracy tests Japanese scored an average of 296 points and 288 points, respectively, on a 500-point scale, according to the results of tests taken by 5,173 Japanese aged 16 to 65 between August 2011 and February 2012. By comparison the overall average scores in those areas were 273 and 260 points.

Finland and the Netherlands ranked second and third in the literacy tests. In numeracy Japan was followed by Finland and Belgium. S. Korea and the US fared surprisingly poorly in literacy, ranking 14th and 16th, respectively among 23 nations. In numeracy too Korea was 14th but the US was 21st, ahead of only Italy and Spain.

A total of 157,000 people aged 16 – 65 from both member and nonmember nations participated in the first survey conducted under the OECD Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The PIAAC’s purpose is to help nations make better use of education by measuring the key cognitive and work skills necessary for full social and economic participation.

Japanese came in 10th among 20 nations in the survey on problem solving in technology-rich environments. The tests targeted people with computer skills to assess their ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish complex tasks. Thirty-four percent of Japanese exceeded the benchmark, about average among the 20 nations participating in those tests. The top ranking went to Sweden where 44% exceeded the benchmark, followed by Finland and the Netherlands.

Japanese who are middle-aged and elderly fared best relative to other nations, probably due to the nation’s postwar education system which focused on basic educational skills and skills needed to find corporate employment. Japanese in their 40s and 50s did exceptionally well in the numeracy survey.

Japan’s younger generations show progressively less advantage over those of other nations. In the OECD Program for International Student Assessment, for example, which centers around the skills of 15-year-olds, Japan trails Finland and South Korea.

The results of the PIAAC suggests that people with a higher educational levels scored better and earned more income. In each survey across the OECD, those aged around 30 had the highest scores compared with other age groups.