Japanese adults top in reading, math skills: OECD study

PARIS (AFP) - Japanese adults are way ahead in math and literacy skills than their peers in 23 other countries, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published on Tuesday.

The study, conducted in 22 OECD member states as well as Russia and Cyprus, involved tests on 166,000 people aged between 16 and 65.

Only 4.9 per cent of Japanese adults had scores of 1 or less on a scale of 1 to 5, indicating difficulty in reading a simple text.

The highest level 5 denotes the ability to search and process information from dense texts and evaluate evidence based arguments.

"Roughly every fifth Finn and Japanese reads at high levels (Level 4 or 5 on the Survey of Adult Skills)," the OECD Skills Outlook 2013 report said.

"This means, for example, that they can perform multiple-step operations to integrate, interpret, or synthesise information," it said.

The corresponding figure was less than one per 20 for Spain and Italy. The OECD average was 15.5 per cent.

The report said Japanese nationals aged between 25 and 34 who had only finished secondary education were far ahead in writing skills than university graduates in the same age bracket in Spain and in Italy.

The results were similar for mathematical ability with the Japanese outstripping the others. Only 8.1 percent had problems in tackling a basic sum and were evaluated at level 1 or less.

The figure for France was 28 per cent while it was more than 30 per cent for Italy and Spain.

In digital technology, at least 10 per cent in nearly all the countries lacked basic skills to use a computer.

Swedes topped the ranking in computer literacy and digital skills with 8.8 per cent ranked at a very high level, followed by Finland and Japan.

The study also showed that those with strong literacy skills earned salaries about 60 per cent higher than others less competent.

And those with literacy levels of 1 or less were at greater risk of being unemployed. The figure on an average was seven percent for them against 4 per cent for those placed at the highest levels of 4 and 5.

The ones lagging behind in literacy levels also reported poorer health and were less committed citizens.

The study also said that "immigrants with a foreign-language background have significantly lower proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments than native-born adults".