New Zealand's adult literacy among the best

New Zealand adults are among the world's most literate.
VIV POSSELT/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand adults are among the world's most literate.

Adult Kiwis are among the most literate in the OECD, according to a new report.

The survey of adult skills, released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday, showed New Zealand has steadily improved adult literacy over two decades.

It was ranked fourth of the 33 countries surveyed, behind Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. In the same survey in 1996, New Zealand was ranked 12th. 

Adult Kiwis also ranked fifth in problem-solving using technology and 13th in numeracy. They were above the OECD average in all three categories.

Despite a strong improvement in literacy, numeracy has remained static since it was first measured in 2006.

The survey found that one in five Kiwis had only basic or no numeracy skills – more than the number with advanced numeracy skills.

It found there were still "sharp" skill differences between ethnic groups.

"The differences in proficiency related to age, gender, education and social background are less pronounced in New Zealand than in many other countries," the report found.

They were most pronounced in the gap between Europeans and Maori and Pasifika respondents, most prominently in numeracy. 

Maori and Pasifika had increased their average literacy scores significantly since 1996, but they were still well behind Europeans.

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The survey showed that New Zealand's immigrant population was more highly skilled than in almost all countries surveyed.

The strong result in literacy showed the country was making good progress, said tertiary education, skills and employment minister Steven Joyce.

"These results are great news for our economy and our society," he said.

"A more highly skilled, highly qualified workforce is essential and that must include good literacy skills across the board."

He said the Government had focussed on improving adult literacy and numeracy, particularly in the workplace. It would now work to increase the numeracy rate.

"The progress we have made is a real tribute to the adult educators and all those involved in improving literacy in New Zealand.

"In the years ahead we will focus particularly on lifting numeracy skills further, while seeking to maintain our strong performance in literacy and problem-solving."

The survey collected data from 33 countries. It interviewed 6177 New Zealanders.

It did not measure whether people were literate or illiterate, but grouped people into ranges of abilities.

 - Stuff

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