OECD slams numeracy skill levels In Australia

In a recent report, Building Skills for All in Australia, the OECD joins the throng of those drawing attention to low literacy and numeracy levels in Australia. The report highlights the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey results, which reveal that one in five Australians (around 3 million adults) have low literacy and/or numeracy skills.

While these results are similar to some other countries, the OECD makes the point:

“Taken together, although Australia’s average results are not poor, the challenges presented by adults with low basic skills may lead to Australia being left behind in terms of innovation and economic growth by countries that have been more successfully investing in the skills of all their people.”

Share of Adults with Low Basic Skills


The report highlighted a number of particular deficiencies including:

  • numeracy represents a particular challenge in Australia;
  • signs of poor numeracy performance can be traced back to initial schooling;
  • women have weaker numeracy skills than men;
  • there is a large gap between the most proficient and least proficient adults in literacy and numeracy;
  • many well-educated adults have low literacy and/or numeracy skills; and
  • young women are much more likely to be not in employment, education and training (NEET) than young men.

Why does not having good numeracy skills matter? Numeracy skills are not about abstract mathematics but about applying mathematical concepts to daily situations in all aspects of life. People with low numeracy skills, Level 2 or below, will struggle with aspects of daily life. In addition, better numeracy skills are associated with higher earnings and higher employment rates. These skills are increasingly required in the labour market. The fastest growing occupations require STEM skills which include a sound grounding in numeracy.

To address this numeracy issue, the report recommends that the participation of women in STEM fields needs to increase and the focus on mathematics in secondary education needs to be strengthened.

This report echoes the persistent concern of the Ai Group about the low levels of literacy and numeracy in Australia, especially in the workforce.

Are you concerned about the level of literacy and numeracy of your workforce? And will proficiency in numeracy be increasingly important in your business? Share your thoughts and start a conversation by leaving a comment below.

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Michael Taylor is Ai Group’s National Policy and Projects Manager, Education and Training. He is responsible for a number of national projects across workplace literacy and numeracy, skills, and the management of a mature age workforce. Michael also contributes to policy formulation across a wide spectrum of education, training and skills.

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