When investment in basic skills gives negative returns

Periodical
Adult Education Quarterly
Volume
67
Year
2017
Issue number
2
Page range
136–154
Relates to study/studies
PIAAC

When investment in basic skills gives negative returns

Abstract

In recent years, the Norwegian government has invested heavily in improving basic skills in the adult population. Initiatives have included legislation, the introduction of work-based adult education programs, and reforms in schooling. In light of this investment, we explore trends in adult literacy and numeracy, by comparing data from two international surveys of adult skills, conducted in 2003 and 2012. Paradoxically, the proportion of low-performing adults appears to have increased, most significantly in the 16- to 24-year age group and in the foreign-born population. The profile of the lowest performing group has changed in the intervening years. These findings suggest that adult education programs and the education system more generally may not be in concord with the goal of including all in the communities of the literate. We discuss policy implications, in the context of the Scandinavian model, but argue that the discussion is applicable beyond national boundaries.