Basic skills of Finnish adults one of the best in the OECD countries (press release 8 October 2013)

The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC 2012) is the largest ever study organised by the OECD on the basic skills of the adult population, and it is expected to provide a significant source of information for developing education and working life. The Survey assesses literacy and numeracy skills and the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments among 16 to 65-year-olds in 24 countries. The international survey showed that average literacy and numeracy skills among Finnish adults were excellent. Finnish adults were also among the best in the survey in their ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments. But there were many whose skills were weak too. The good average scores of Finland are largely thanks to the good skills of 20 to 39-year-olds, skills among older age groups are at the OECD average level.

The average literacy skills of Finnish adults are excellent in relative terms internationally. Their average literacy score was 288 points, which is well over the average score for the OECD countries (273 points). The only country that fared better was Japan. Two thirds of the adult population in Finland are either good or excellent readers. On the other hand, 11% of all 16 to 65-year-olds have very poor skills in literacy.

The average score in numeracy of Finnish adults is among the best in the survey. Finland’s average score (282 points) is clearly over the average score for the OECD countries (269 points). Japan was the only country that exceeded Finland in proficiency in numeracy. Differences within the Finnish population in numeracy skills are at the average international level. Over a half of all adult Finns (57%) have either good or excellent skills in numeracy, but at the same time, 13% of the adult population experiences great difficulties with basic mathematics.

Altogether 41% of all Finns have either good or excellent ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments. This is well over the OECD average (34%). The only country to exceed Finland in this area is Sweden.

Some of the participants in the survey did not want to or were not able to use the computer to complete the tasks. These respondents therefore didn’t participate in the section on the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments. They account for an average of 24% in the OECD countries and about 19% in Finland. Around 30% of the Finnish adult population aged 16-65, in other words about a million adults, have insufficient skills in solving problems in technology-rich environments, when adding up those who did poorly in the section on the ability of solve problems in technology-rich environments and those who did not do the tasks by computer at all.

Significant differences between age groups

The good average scores of Finland are largely thanks to the good skills of 20 to 39-year-olds. Those aged 30 to 34 were the best in both literacy and numeracy, whereas those aged 25 to 29 had the best ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments. The youngest age group, those aged 16 to 19, did not score as high in each of the areas of proficiency as those aged 20 to 24.

Finnish people aged 20 to 34 were, together with their Japanese counterparts, the best in both literacy and numeracy. In the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments, this age group was in shared first place with the Swedes.

The skills of older age groups were generally weaker than those of younger ones in the Survey, but the differences between age groups varied considerably by country. There are large differences between age groups in Finland. In Finland, the gap between the oldest age groups to the best performing age groups in literacy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments is the widest in the survey, and second widest in numeracy too.

There were no major differences in literacy between men and women in Finland, not even among those aged between 19 and 29. Men are slightly better than women in numeracy. There were no significant differences between men and women in the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments. These differences between the genders are close the OECD average.

Educational background, both the respondent’s and their parents’, is linked to proficiency

Proficiency in basic skills is strongly connected to educational background in all countries in the Survey. Finland is no exception in the OECD average. Besides the respondents’ own education, the educational background of parents is evident in the case of adult proficiency. Among the participants in the study, those with one parent with tertiary education, 40% ranked in the highest range in literacy proficiency and 34% in numeracy proficiency. Where both parents have completed no more than lower secondary level education, the corresponding percentage is one tenth. The connection is clear also in the case of problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments. The link between parents educational level to proficiency in basic skills is slightly higher in Finland than the OECD average.

Besides basic education, participation in education later on is connected to basic skills. Those who had participated in work-related training over the past 12 months had much better basic skills on average than those who had not participated in any training. Participation rates in education and training in Finland are one of the highest in the world.

Strong link between proficiency and occupation to use of skills at work

The participants of the study were asked to what extent they use different skills for processing information in their work, i.e. reading, writing, mathematical sums and problem-solving in technology-rich environments. They were also asked about the use of a range of generic skills, such as task discretion, learning at work, influencing skills, co-operative skills, self-organising skills, dexterity and physical skills.

The estimates given by Finnish participants on the use of different skills are close to the international average. Employees in Finland have autonomy in their own work more than in the OECD countries on average, whereas collaborating with colleagues and physical exertion is lower than the OECD average. Finland is among the four best countries in terms of employees having autonomy over key aspects of their work.

The qualifications of employees and the self-reported qualifications required for their work was appropriate in 69% of the cases. This is a slightly higher figure than for the OECD countries on average (66%). Proficiency acquired through education was under-used among 17% of the participants, which is slightly less than the OECD average (21%).

Altogether 14% of the Finnish participants had lower qualifications than their self-reported job requirement was. This is close to the same figure as for the OECD countries on average (13%). The highest qualification deficit is in Italy (22%) and Sweden (21%).

In Finland, literacy and numeracy meets job requirements better than formal education. Less than 5% of employees had shortages in these skills in terms of their job requirements. About 7% were not using all their full potential in skills at work.


  • Professor Antero Malin, University of Jyväskylä, Finnish Institute for Educational Research, tel. +358 50 411 6551
  • Varpu Weijola, Chief Counsellor, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, tel. +358 29 50 48029
  • Petri Haltia, Counsellor of Education, Ministry of Education and Culture, tel. +358 295 3 30096
  • Petra Packalen, Councellor of Education, Finnish National Board of Education, tel. +358 29 533 1162

The implementation of the Survey and the national results are available at: www.piaac.fi

The international adult education survey and its results can be accessed through the OECD webpages at:
www.oecd.org/site/piaac/ It also includes the research material and a database analyser that facilitates processing of data.

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Information on the PIAAC Survey

  • Literacy and numeracy skills and the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments were assessed mainly by answering practical questions by computer, although the survey could also be carried out by pencil in notebooks where necessary. The assessment tasks consisted of various everyday work and daily life situations where the respondents are expected to use the pertinent skills. The tasks did not require any specific expert knowledge or skills.
  • There was a large group of subjects who were excluded from the proficiency classification related to the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments because they were either unable or unwilling to use the computer to execute the tasks.
  • There were altogether 5,464 participants in the Finnish country Survey. The response rate in Finland was 66%.
  • The PIAAC Survey was financed by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. The Survey was implemented by the Finnish Institute for Educational Research of the University of Jyväskylä and Statistics Finland.
  • PIAAC stands for Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.