Quarter of EU adults lack basic skills for today’s knowledge economy

A new survey suggests that 25% of adults in the European Union (EU) lack the basic skills necessary to succeed in today’s knowledge economy.

The Survey of Adult Skills was carried out by the EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

It assessed adults aged 16-65 in 17 countries of the EU and also some non-EU countries like the US and Australia, finds that 1 in 4 adults can’t use a computer properly, and 1 in 5 has poor literacy and numeracy.

Stark contrast in levels of skills across the EU

The findings reveal stark contrasts across the EU. For instance, recent upper secondary school leavers in The Netherlands and Finland performed better in literacy tests than university graduates in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and the UK.

A typical literacy test invites the respondent to read a passage of text then answer questions that test comprehension. The tests for numeracy included for example working out a restaurant’s average expenditure over three months from a table showing a three-month breakdown of income and expenditure.

And one of the problem-solving tests required the respondent to explore a shopping website to find out how to arrange for an exchange of an incorrectly delivered product.

In a joint statement, Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, and Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD, say:

“It’s not acceptable that that one fifth of our population has only low levels of skills. We have to fix this problem. There are no short-cuts. At EU and national level, we have to invest more efficiently in better education and better training.”

László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, agrees, and urges Member States to “make better use of the European Social Fund to invest in skills and training, both for the young unemployed and for the lifelong learning of middle-aged and older workers.”

The survey’s results and its implications are to be discussed with Member States to identify action points.

One of the projects that Member States will be able to take advantage of is Erasmus+, which will bring together all the current EU and international schemes for education, training, youth and sport, replacing seven existing programs with one. It will also support projects aimed at developing and upgrading adult skills.