29 Jun 2016

Kiwi's problem-solving smarts rank high

9:50 am on 29 June 2016

New Zealanders have topped the world in a test of adults' ability to use computers and the internet, even though nearly half of us can only do the basics and a few cannot even use a computer at all.

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Photo: 123RF

The OECD's Survey of Adult Skills has placed New Zealand fourth for literacy and top of the English-speaking world for numeracy among people aged 16-65.

More than 6000 New Zealanders participated in the testing in 2014 and early 2015.

Ten percent were rated at the highest level of competence for "problem-solving in technology-rich environments", almost double the OECD average and the highest proportion of any of the participating countries.

A further 34 percent were placed in the next level of competence in problem-solving, level 2. The percentage of New Zealanders in levels one and two for problem-solving was equalled only by Sweden.

Just five percent of New Zealand adults said they had no experience with computers, a third of the OECD average figure.

New Zealand's average score for literacy was fourth, just ahead of Australia and behind Japan, Finland and the Netherlands.

In numeracy, New Zealand's adult population was the best-performing English-speaking nation at 13th.

An OECD report said New Zealand's literacy score had improved and its numeracy score was unchanged since previous assessments, but during the same period OECD averages had fallen slightly.

It said in most countries the 25- to 34-year-old group scored highest, but in New Zealand the 35- to 44-year-olds had the best literacy scores.


The youngest age groups had the highest scores for problem-solving, while New Zealand Europeans had higher scores than other New Zealand ethnic groups in all three areas of testing and Pasifika people had the lowest scores.

However, the gap between Maori and Pasifika results and the New Zealand average had narrowed since previous tests.

New Zealand men and women had identical average scores for literacy and problem-solving, but men had a higher average score for numeracy. Women had out-performed men in literacy in previous tests in 1996 and 2006, but men had improved and closed that gap.

Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, said New Zealand's good result in problem solving did not surprise him.

"Kiwis are great problem solvers and we see that in all our tech companies and start ups and we're very good at that sort of innovation."

Mr Joyce said the literacy and numeracy results were also good.

He said the results were due to several factors including the school system and a better focus on literacy and numeracy in industry training and foundation tertiary education courses.

"For the tertiary sector and the school sector it's a real feather in the cap to see these numbers."

Mr Joyce said he was not convinced that a decline in PISA scores for 15-year-olds would result in poorer results in the adult survey in future.

He said the results were important because they benchmarked New Zealand against the rest of the world.

"These show us that we're doing well relative to the rest of the world. And these are the skills people need to succeed in modern life," he said.

"What we're able to show is that we're heading in the right direction because benchmarked against our peers in the developed world, we're doing very well."

Note for readers

New Zealand's average score for problem-solving in technology-rich environments was fifth highest in the Survey of Adult Skills.

However, the average scores were calculated by excluding people who had no computer experience or whose ability to use a computer mouse or scroll through a web page was so poor they were excluded from the test.

In New Zealand, just 5 percent of adults had no or very poor computer ability, compared to more than 20 percent of adults in Japan. But because those people were excluded, Japan recorded a higher average score than New Zealand.

RNZ's coverage has therefore ignored the average scores and focused on the proportions of the adult population at each level of competence in problem-solving.