Close to half of Australian adults lack the basic reading, writing and maths skills needed for every day living such as interpreting instruction manuals or using the internet, a study has claimed.

Preliminary results from an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 44 per cent of adult Australians - or 7.3 million - achieved literacy results that were in the lowest two of five bands. About 8.9 million, or 55 per cent, were in the lowest two bands for numeracy.

The international assessment, held in 25 countries, also showed that 38 per cent of employed adults were in the lowest bands for literacy and 38 per cent for numeracy.

The test, which some completed using pen and paper and others did online, demanded solutions to real-life tasks such as getting information from a medicine label or navigating a website.

About 9000 Australians aged 15 to 74 took part in the sample testing. Australian Council for Educational Research senior fellow Dave Tout, a member of the group which designed the numeracy test, said the results were alarming.

"The results of this study mean Australia still has much work to do in the area of workplace and vocational education and training," he said.

Mr Tout questioned whether teachers and trainers in the vocational sector had the skills to indentify or assist people with poor literacy and numeracy skills.

The WA Government recently revealed that all Year 12 students would have to prove they had reached a minimum standard of proficiency in literacy and numeracy before graduation from high school.

Mr Tout said setting high expectations would help achieve higher standards. "The 21st century has become a lot more sophisticated, and what we expect people to now do in their lives is higher than it was probably 25 years ago," he said.

"Just navigating a web page is much more difficult than turning over a page in a book.

"I don't know that the system of education has been able to maintain the same level of improvement as the expectations of society."

'Australia still has much work to do in the area of workplace and vocational education and training.'"Australian Council for Educational Research senior fellow *Dave Tout *

The West Australian

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