The Slovenian education minister Jernej Pikalo has described PIAAC as the basis of educational reform in the country./ Photo: Yerpo 

Second round perspectives – Slovenia prepares for PIAAC

Slovenia is one of the countries participating in the second round of the OECD’s PIAAC. This article deals with the expectations of Slovenian policy makers, education institutions and professionals.

26.08.2014

Introduction

The OECD’s PIAAC survey (Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competences), measuring adults’ skills, has been conducted in two rounds. The first round is ready, and its results were published already in October 2013. During this first round, 24 countries were surveyed. A second round started in 2012 with 9 more countries participating (Chile, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Lithuania, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovenia, and Turkey). The results of the second round are in a phase of processing and analysis and will be published in May 2016.

Also a third round for the period 2014-2018 is envisaged by the OECD, which is currently soliciting for interested countries to join the survey.

Slovenia is one of the countries participating in the second round. This article deals with the expectations of Slovenian policy makers, education institutions and professionals. Was it an advantage or a disadvantage to be among the second round countries? Slovenian politicians have placed a lot of trust in the survey, regarding it as a future basis of a rather complex educational reform.

Slovenia also complements the empirical component of PIAAC with an array of thematic studies, serving as the analytical component of the survey. This is unique for Slovenia.

Empirical data complemented with thematic studies

Work on the PIAAC survey began two years ago in Slovenia. Work is conducted by a consortium of partner institutions: the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education (leading partner), Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia as well as three faculties of the University of Ljubljana. The direct measurement of competences, in both pilot and main stages would include more than 6000 adults in all regions in the country. The sample is selected from the Register of population, aged from 16 to 65 years old, which is the target population.

The project is composed of two modules: field data gathering (empirical research) and analytical applicative module. A synthesis of both will serve as a basis for shaping policies of development of competences, for determining national indicators for follow-up as well as for further development of programmes of education.

Not least, this research will be a basis for the development, preparations and implementation of training of trainers in education and training of adults, for utilization of modern methods and forms of learning and teaching. This equally relates to the development of curricula and learning materials for carrying out modern forms of learning and teaching.

Unique for Slovenia, the empirical component of PIAAC will be complemented with an array of thematic studies, serving as the analytical component of the survey. The preparation work of these thematic studies is already going on in   parallel to the process of collecting the empirical data. These studies will be completed in 2016 after the preparation of the database.

Thematic studies enable an insight into the interconnectedness of the following variables: low literacy, poverty and unemployment; the gap between literacy of pupils and students and their age-mates not in education; differences among regions in levels of literacy, associated with economic development; the gap in inclusion of adults in education, regarding the already achieved level of education and level of literacy;  the impact of the demands of the working position for the use and sustainability of write skills and the impact of the education and literacy of parents to academic results of children.

Second round – bad timing?

Because of all these expectations it seems to be a pity that Slovenia had not taken part in the first round of countries involved in PIAAC. The results could have been usable for shaping up new legislative solutions, for example the New Development Strategy, the new Resolution on the Master Plan of Adult Education from 2012. New measures and initiatives for education of most deprivileged communities will also be set up by 2020. It is also a fact that the European cohesion policy will also be implemented for the period 2014-2020. The research could have considerably contributed to shaping of these documents, however it is not too late, particularly if comparative indications would be utilized.

If one may even speak of the advantage of participation of countries in the second round, this advantage might relate to certain methodological solutions and elimination of technical difficulties after the first round.

Using PIAAC results

Realistic expectations

PIAAC results are expected to be a major asset for research and evidence-based policy-making in Slovenia in the field.

Through them, we acquire international comparisons on competences of the population of Slovenia for the labour market from the view point of the offer but also from the view point of demand for skills and competences. We may then identify the structural groups’ varieties and measure the differences in competences among groups, individuals and countries that are assumed to have an impact on personal success and competitiveness of a country as a whole.

This way we would obtain a more complex picture of the potentials of the human capital, enabling us then to assess the collateral influence of these competences onto the social and economic achievements on the level of an individual and social sub-groups or on the entire society. For instance, we would identify the importance of the cognitive skills in improvement of the position in the labour market for the vulnerable communities, assessing also to what extent the educational system provides these competences in both groups of youth and adults.

In the area of education of children and youth, numerous studies and national surveys have already been produced in the country, while for the group of adults there is a large deficit in evidence. No evidence exists about the knowledge and competences of the adult population. PIAAC is expected to build up a solid basis for the future shaping of inter-sectoral policies, meaning particular policies for education, training and individual development in sectors like business, health protection, social care, agriculture, culture, science and other sectors.

So far, the PIAAC research has gained large support. A press conference has already been held, with 7 participating ministers and state secretaries. The Minister of Education, Science and Sport has considered the knowledge acquired by PIAAC as a basis for indicating the competences of adults in Slovenia -in comparison with other countries. The Minister also regards the study as a basis for a revision of many dimensions of the entire educational system, as “an instrument for formation of a more appropriate education”.

Regarding this reformation it is too early to specify what concrete measures might follow for adult education as the research results for Slovenia will not be available before May 2016. Since Slovenia had so deeply utilized the results of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) research (more on this in a later chapter) it is expected that the new results will have an impact on reshaping programme documents in adult education. It is also expected to lead to more dynamic development in the field through creating new programmes of literacy, of learning materials, of training of trainers and so forth.

PIAAC is interesting regarding also the labour market, as it would provide evidence on the competences of the unemployed and will serve as a basis for easier sketching of programmes of active employment policy. Regarding infrastructure development, the results will be usable in preparation of security in the traffic, particularly relating to the older. For example, results may indicate which groups of population have difficulties in understanding a particular traffic signalization.

Another example of the survey’s usability in the labour market is the agriculture and environment sector. The results promise in the first instance assistance in introduction of new technologies as well as in education for their implementation. The Ministry of agriculture will examine the results in more detail, paying a particular attention to whether the skills of Slovenian farmers correspond to the rules and legislation of that sector.

A good point was also made on the utilization of the results in the fields of culture, home affairs and public health sectors. In the last sector, the research is specifically considered as a ground for personnel development and measures to advance the health protection literacy of the population. The correlation between the level of skills and competences and the health of individuals, particularly regarding preventive measures, expected life age etc. will be examined in more detail, jointly with the Ministry of public health.

Added value of PIAAC results

The main messages drawn from the results of the first round of PIAAC, relevant for Slovenia, are that individuals having higher knowledge, qualifications, skills and competences are more employable, have higher remmunerations, are more healthy, are more active civic and socially, more politically active as well as more participative in education and training. These were quite in accordance with our hypotheses and to a high degree correspondent with other countries’ results.

The added value of PIAAC for Slovenia would be mainly in the following:

  • it would give an insight into the state of development of new competences such as problem solving in technologically requiring environments. In our environment we empirically still do not know the dimensions of that problem.
  • the advantage of PIAAC is that it provides a continuation and adding over the two earlier international research projects in the field of measuring of competences of adults (more on this in the next chapter) which would enable comparisons and also assessments of the advancement in written and mathematical literacy of the population over a longer time span. Slovenia has taken part in the International Adult Literacy Survey – IALS (1998) but not in the research Adult Learning and Lifeskills Survey ALL (2006). This would enable a comparative analysis of data for a 16- year- long period 1998-2014. Connectivity of PIAAC data will, for instance enable better explanation of differences of the features of adults with low and adults with high achievements.
  • we would better understand the relative efficiency of educational systems. The project will even indicate to what extent adults who acquired qualification in the educational system, save and develop the knowledge and skills obtained and how much they had been able to apply them at work and other contexts. For this purpose, there is a plan to associate research evidence of PIAAC and data of the international research PISA, which measures the achievements of literacy for 15-year- old students (for the cohort of adults who had been included in PISA research in 1999). There is an intention to hold a separate conference to analyse comparatively the results of PISA and PIAAC. Similarities, differences and continuities will be considered for various areas of skills and competences among youths and adults. The cooperation among fellows working on PISA and PIAAC will continue as they work in different institutions.

In addition to the uses described above, PIAAC results would also be a measurement of the recession’s effects. Slovenia, over the recent period has faced the social and economic crisis and recession. This period is featured by restrictive policies and lower investments in education and training (Mirceva, 2011). PIAAC research will give evidence on whether this has caused some movements at the level of literacy, skills and competences of the adult population: have social, economic, educational and other problems increased, decreased or the matrix remained unchanged?

Coupling PIAAC with other studies

Since 1998 Slovenia has been included in the IALS-International Adult Literacy Survey, conducted through OECD and in which more than 20 other countries have taken part. PIAAC results will offer more insight into IALS results.

The important conclusions of the IALS have been the following:

In Slovenia, a high participation of the adult population is concentrated in the lowest two (first two levels of literacy) levels. Research results have indicated that the level of education, age, parents’ education and employment status have the highest impact on the level of skills and competences. The key factor influencing the level of literacy of the population was the length of education. The achievements in literacy of older people had been significantly lower than those of younger generations.

Based on this evidence, in the achievements in literacy of the youth, Slovenia was placed closer to the middle of the scale of 20 countries. Nevertheless, the IALS research has shown that Slovenia, compared with other countries, had a visible disbalance between levels of literacy of the youth, which are not part of regular education and pupils and students. The other feature was the extraordinarily high ratio, unfavorable, between the results of youths in the age group 16-19 years. The third feature is the high gap in levels of literacy between youth whose parents have obtained highest levels of education and those having obtained the lowest. (Možina, 2000)

Particular attention was devoted in the IALS research to the issues of participation of adults in education. The results have indicated that educationally non-active social groups exist. This low activity is explained by lower education, lower work, social and material position, older age and insufficient writing skills. A surprising indication was that, despite the endeavors of the state bodies and despite the adoption of many innovations in the practices of the adult education,  the group differences between those with higher and lower educational participation, have increased, not decreased. (Mirceva, 2000)

The PIAAC research will indicate whether these differences in a time-span increase, decrease or stagnate, and thus complement the IALS results.

As a matter of fact, Slovenia is among the rare countries which has so deeply utilized the results of the IALS research. At policy and professional level, the results on the literacy possibilities and competences have been used in national strategic documents, in strategies in the area of education of adults as well as in the measures to improve the offer of relevant  programmes leading to the rise of participation of adults in programmes.

Read LLinE’s March theme issue on PIAAC

References

Mirceva, J. (2000). Participacija odraslih v izobraževanju: Vir ali posledica družbene razslojenosti. V: Pismenost, participacija in družba znanja. 4. Andragoški kolokvij. Ljubljana: Andragoški center Slovenije.

Možina, E. (2000). Pismenost odraslih v Sloveniji. IB Revija. 34: 3-4.

OECD (2013). OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264204256-en.

Resolucija o nacionalnem programu izobraževanja odraslih v Republiki Sloveniji do leta 2010. (2004).  Uradni list RS št.70/2004.

Slovenia’s Development Strategy (2005). Government of the Republic of Slovenia. Institute of Macroeconomic  Analysis  and development. 22.4.2014. Retrieved from www.umar.gov.si/fileadmin/user_upload/projects/slovenia_development_strategy.pdf