While there is a focus internationally on measuring literacy and numeracy skills at age 15, as captured in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), at least two aspects are neglected in debates on learning achievement.
First, literacy and numeracy skills continue to develop in some populations after the end of compulsory schooling. For example, as data from the OECD Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey show, these skills reach a peak in the early 30s before they start to decline. This means that young people develop cognitively for many years after finishing compulsory education, at least if they benefit from post-secondary education opportunities.
Older adults possess a lower level of literacy and numeracy skills, mainly because people lose skills as they age but also partly because the quality of education in some countries has improved, which works for the benefit of younger adults.
Those with less education not only have lower skills as they enter adulthood but are also more likely to find employment in occupations that do not require the use and development of their skills. They are also less likely to benefit from adult education opportunities.
Second, literacy and numeracy skills do not develop in the same way for all populations. A recent analysis of data from PISA surveys on students at age 15 and Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) surveys of the same cohort 12 years later, brought up interesting conclusions about how young people’s skills develop and what factors influence their development.
Since 2000, PISA surveys have been telling us that two factors make you more likely to have a lower literacy score: being a boy and coming from a lower socioeconomic background. Whether or not an individual is from a low socioeconomic background has been linked to such easy-to-observe factors as the number of books at home or the parents’ level of education. Continue reading