Workers in Spain and Italy are the least skilled among 24 developed countries surveyed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a deficit that is likely to impede the ability of those two countries to boost their competitiveness as part of efforts to overcome the euro-zone fiscal crisis. Italy ranks bottom, and Spain second-to-last among the 24 countries in literacy skills. Over one in five adults in both countries can't read as well as a 10-year-old child would be expected to in most education systems (Wall Street Journal). In a report that covered a wide range of countries, the OECD also concluded that in both the U.S. and the U.K., younger people are significantly less-skilled relative to their peers than older people, while Japan and Finland boast the most-skilled workers. The study found that Americans ranked 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21 out of 23 in numeracy (Wall Street Journal).
"The survey of adult skills assesses the proficiency of adults from age 16 onwards in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. These skills are “key information-processing competencies” that are relevant to adults in many social contexts and work situations, and necessary for fully integrating and participating in the labour market, education and training, and social and civic life. In addition, the survey collects a range of information on the reading- and numeracy-related activities of respondents, the use of information and communication technologies at work and in everyday life, and on a range of generic skills, such as collaborating with others and organising one’s time, required of individuals in their work. Respondents are also asked whether their skills and qualifications match their work requirements and whether they have autonomy over key aspects of their work” (OECD).
Around 166000 adults aged 16-65 were surveyed in 24 countries and sub-national regions: 22 OECD member countries – Australia, Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom (England and Northern Ireland), and the United States; and two partner countries – Cyprus and the Russian Federation.
Literacy is defined as the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential. Literacy encompasses a range of skills from the decoding of written words and sentences to the comprehension, interpretation, and evaluation of complex texts. It does not, however, involve the production of text (writing). Information on the skills of adults with low levels of proficiency is provided by an assessment of reading components that covers text vocabulary, sentence comprehension and passage fluency.