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The ESF in the news

Results of the first adult-skills survey can guide ESF priorities for the 2014-2020 period


High school girl been called to chalkboard
© michaeljung

On 8 October, the European Commission, together with the OECD, published the results of a comprehensive survey on literacy, numeracy and technology-related skills in 17 EU Member States and other countries. In each country, the skill levels of 5000 people of working age (16-65 years) were assessed.

The survey results are disturbing, revealing that one in five adults in Europe has difficulties with writing, reading and simple arithmetic. Another significant finding is that university degrees in the same subject from across the EU produce markedly different levels of skills – a fact that does not encourage graduate mobility within the Union. The key findings of the survey are:

  • That 20% of the EU working-age population has low literacy and numeracy skills – more among the unemployed.
  • Digital skills needed to use ICT technologies effectively are lacking in 25% of the EU population.
  • Striking differences exist between the skill-sets provided by formal education, both secondary and tertiary.
  • Generation gaps in skill levels revealed by the survey highlight the importance of lifelong learning for a higher living standard.

For example, proficiency in literature and numeracy among 25-34 year-olds is significantly better than the generation aged 55-65 in countries such as Spain, France, Finland and the Flanders region of Belgium. Worldwide, Japan outperforms other countries, while results from large countries such as Canada and the US differ little from those in the EU.

European Commissioner László Andor called for funding for education and employment reforms to be a priority, and for better use of the European Social Fund to invest in skills and training. The survey results can help Member States define their priorities for ESF spending for the upcoming 2014-2020 period, which is a key source of investment in skills and training, including for disadvantaged groups.

ESF support to education covers a broad range of activities, including: new school curricula, teacher training and support for universities, vocational training institutions and lifelong learning. Most importantly, the ESF focuses on people – schoolchildren, university students, workers and job-seekers looking for training and new skills. Many ESF projects are taking steps to reduce early school leaving and to ensure that young people have appropriate skills and qualifications – particularly among disadvantaged groups such as minorities and those with an immigrant background.