Publications

Adult literacy and numeracy in New Zealand - Key factors

Publication Details

This report explores a range of factors associated with English literacy and numeracy among people aged 25-65, using data from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey 2006. It finds that three key factors can account for a large part of the variation between people in their literacy and numeracy skills: completed education, language background and computer use. Computer use was strongly associated with higher literacy and numeracy, especially the combination of work and home computer use. Computer use was associated with intensive and extensive reading, writing and numeracy practices. Work computer use or non-use divided jobs broadly into those that required higher literacy and numeracy and those that did not. There was a large overlap between the groups of people with low literacy and low numeracy, and the group of people who did not use a computer at work.

Author(s): Chris Lane, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis and Reporting, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2010

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report. This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads/Links' inset box, top right).
Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

Labour force status and computer use

Use of a computer at work and computer use at home are both strong predictors of higher prose literacy and numeracy in the statistical models. Use of a computer at work is clearly dependent on being employed. Because computer use and employment are intertwined in this way, the two areas are explored together here. Accordingly, this chapter covers labour force status, work computer use and home computer use in terms of how these variables relate to higher prose literacy and numeracy.

Labour force status

Labour force status, prose literacy and numeracy

Respondents were asked about their labour force status at the time of the survey. The percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher English prose literacy and higher numeracy (where higher means levels 3 to 5) in each category of current labour force status is displayed in Figures 10 and 11.

Figure 10: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by current labour force statusImage of Figure 10: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by current labour force status.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. Note: For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Figure 11: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by current labour force status
Image of Figure 11: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by current labour force status.
Notes:
  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).
  3. The estimate for the ‘Other’ category is of marginal reliability.

The two groups which had the greatest percentage of people with higher prose literacy and higher numeracy were the employed and students. The margin of error for students is large because there were few people 25 or over in the sample whose main labour force status was ‘student’, just as the margin of error for the retired is large because there were relatively few retired people 65 or under. The percentage of people with higher prose literacy and higher numeracy was significantly greater for employed people than for people who were not employed, apart from students.

Employment in past year, prose literacy and numeracy

Respondents were also asked if they had been employed in the past year or not. Some people who were not employed at the time of the interview had been employed during the previous year and hence count as part of the employed group on the basis of this question (see Chapter 10 for more detail). Figures 12 and 13 show the percentage of people with higher prose literacy and higher numeracy among those who were or were not employed in the past year. Clearly people who had been employed during the past year were significantly more likely to have higher prose literacy or numeracy than those who had not been employed.


Figure 12: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by employment in past year
Image of Figure 12: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by employment in past year.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).

Figure 13: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by employment in past yearImage of Figure 13: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by employment in past year.
Notes:
  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. Note: For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).

Computer use

The ALL survey included a question about use of a computer at work and questions about access to and use of a computer at home. Because the question about computer use at work could only be asked of those who had been employed, this variable cannot be completely separated from that of labour force status and hence is dealt with in conjunction with the effects of labour force status.

Both use of a computer at work and at home are significant predictors of higher prose literacy and numeracy in the statistical models, after controlling for level of education completed, first language and main home language (and in the extended models, for other factors as well). Because the relationship between computer use and literacy or numeracy is probably not as obvious as those involving education and language, this report goes into that relationship in some depth in order to clarify what is behind the statistical results: see Chapter 4.

Computer use at work

The survey question was only addressed to those who had ever used a computer and had been employed in the previous year, and asked “In the last 12 months, did you use a computer in your job?”5

Computer use at work, prose literacy and numeracy

Figures 14 and 15 indicate that those who had been employed in the past year and had used a computer at work were much more likely to have higher prose literacy or numeracy than those who were not employed, or those who were employed but did not use a work computer. In fact, the percentage with higher prose literacy and numeracy was comparable for the latter two groups.

Figure 14: Percentage of all people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by employment and computer use at work
Image of Figure 14: Percentage of all people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by employment and computer use at work.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. Note: For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Figure 15: Percentage of all people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by employment and computer use at work
Image of Figure 15: Percentage of all people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by employment and computer use at work.
Notes:
  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Computer use at home

The initial survey question on this topic was addressed to those who had ever used a computer, and who also had access to a computer at home, and asked “In a typical month, how many hours did you use a computer at home?” To make sure that people actually used their home computers, home computer use was defined as using a home computer 5 or more hours per month (see Chapter 10 for more discussion of this variable).

Home computer use, prose literacy and numeracy

Statistics Canada and OECD (2005, p.184), summarising results from six countries which administered the ALL survey in 2003, and referring to people with home computer access as ‘computer users’, reported that

A comparison of computer users and non-users reveals a literacy gap in all countries. … users consistently score higher on average by approximately 50 or more points.

Similarly, in the New Zealand ALL data, there was a large difference in the percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy or numeracy, according to whether or not they had access to a computer at home, and whether they used the computer for 5 or more hours per month, as shown in Figures 16 and 17.


Figure 16: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by computer access and use at home

Image of Figure 16: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by computer access and use at home.
Notes:
  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Figure 17: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by computer access and use at home

Image of Figure 17: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by computer access and use at home.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Combined effects of computer use at work and at home

Does home computer use make a difference only for those who do not use a computer at work, or does it also make a difference to those who use a computer at work? If we look at computer use at work and at home together, there are four possible combinations of computer use (where home computer use is defined as using a home computer for 5 or more hours per month): a person may

  • use a computer at work as well as using a computer at home
  • use a computer at work but not use a computer at home
  • use a computer at home but not use a computer at work
  • not use a computer at work or at home

The estimated percentages of people aged 25-65 in these four situations are displayed in Figure 18.


Figure 18: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with different combinations of work and home computer use

Image of Figure 18: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with different combinations of work and home computer use.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Work and home computer use, prose literacy and numeracy

Figures 19 and 20 show the percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy and numeracy for each of the four different combinations of work and home computer use.


Figure 19: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by work and home computer use

Image of Figure 19: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher prose literacy (Levels 3-5) by work and home computer use.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations.
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).

Figure 20: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by work and home computer use

Image of Figure 20: Percentage of people aged 25-65 with higher numeracy (Levels 3-5) by work and home computer use.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations.
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Clearly home computer use made a big difference even for people who also used a computer at work. Those using a computer both at work and at home were much more likely to have higher prose literacy or numeracy than those using a computer at work but not at home, who in turn were more likely to have higher prose literacy and numeracy than those who did not use a computer in either location.

Computer use and education

For the prose literacy and numeracy scores, and for personal reading activities, the combinations of work and home computer use form a four-step scale consisting of no computer use, use at home, use at work, and use in both locations (work and home). This four-step scale is used to explore the relationship between computer use and the level of education completed in Figure 21.

Those with tertiary qualifications almost all used a computer in at least one location, and a majority (58 per cent) used a computer in both locations. But for people with lower levels of education, there was less predictability about computer use; in particular, people whose highest completed education was lower secondary (Year 11 or less) were approximately as likely to use a computer in one location as to not use a computer in either location. It may be the case that computer use is a more important factor relating to literacy and numeracy among people with lower educational attainment than among people with higher educational attainment.


Figure 21: Locations of computer use by completed education for people aged 25-65

Image of Figure 21: Locations of computer use by completed education for people aged 25-65.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations.
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).


Computer use and upskilling

The combination of computer use at work and at home also shows a strong association with formal and non-formal upskilling. Figure 22 shows the variation in the percentage of people aged 25-65 who took formal or non-formal courses in the past year according to the combination of work and home computer use. Those who used a computer both at work and at home, or who had used a computer at work, were significantly more likely to have taken courses than those who used a computer at home but not at work, and these people were significantly more likely to have taken courses than people who did not use a computer at home or at work.


Figure 22: Percentage of people aged 25-65 taking formal or non-formal courses in the past year, by computer use at work and home

Image of Figure 22: Percentage of people aged 25-65 taking formal or non-formal courses in the past year, by computer use at work and home.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations.
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).

The association between computer use and upskilling is not confined to people with better education. Among those with lower secondary education (or less), and among those with upper secondary education (Year 12-13 or certificate levels 1-3), as well as among those with tertiary education, people who used a computer at work or both at work and at home were significantly more likely to have taken courses than those who did not use a computer in either location, as shown in Figure 23. Similarly, those who used a computer at work and at home were significantly more likely to take courses than those who used a computer only at home, for all levels of education. In fact, computer use, especially at work, made more of a difference for those with lower or upper secondary education than for those with tertiary education.


Figure 23: Formal and non-formal upskilling by completed education and location of computer use for people aged 25-65

Image of Figure 23: Formal and non-formal upskilling by completed education and location of computer use for people aged 25-65.
Notes:

  1. Source: New Zealand results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. Ministry of Education calculations
  2. For an explanation of the categories see Chapter 10. The bars represent the margins of error (at the 95% confidence level).

Summary

Current labour force status

Among people aged 25-65, those who were employed and students were most likely to have higher prose literacy and higher numeracy, although there were very few people whose main labour force status was ‘student’ in this age range.

People who had been employed in the past year were significantly more likely to have higher prose literacy and numeracy than people who had not, although the advantage of being employed was confined mainly to people who had used a computer at work.

Computer use

See Chapter 4 for a more detailed coverage of the relationship between computer use and literacy or numeracy.

Computer use at work

Both work and home computer use are significant predictors of higher prose literacy and numeracy (after controlling for other factors).

People aged 25-65 who had been employed and used a computer at work in the past year were significantly more likely to have higher literacy and numeracy compared with people who had not been employed or who had been employed and not used a computer at work.

Home computer use

People aged 25-65 who used a computer at home for 5 or more hours per month were significantly more likely to have higher literacy and numeracy compared with people who did not.

Combined effect of work and home computer use

Work and home computer use were moderately correlated but had separate and cumulative effects on prose literacy and numeracy.

People aged 25-65 who used a computer at work and at home were significantly more likely to have higher literacy and numeracy than people who used a computer only at work, who were significantly more likely to have higher literacy and numeracy than those who used a computer only at home, and in turn these people were significantly more likely to have higher literacy and numeracy than people who did not use a computer at work or at home.

Computer use both at work and at home was significantly greater among tertiary-qualified people (58 per cent), while use in neither location was significantly greater among those without tertiary qualifications.

Those who had used a computer at work were significantly more likely to have taken formal or non-formal courses in the past year than those who had used a computer at home but not at work, and these people were significantly more likely to have taken courses than people who did not use a computer at home or at work.

The association between computer use and upskilling held across all levels of completed education, but was particularly strong for people with lower or upper secondary education but not tertiary.

Adding formal and non-formal upskilling to the statistical models does not substantially improve the explanatory power of the models. The positive effect of upskilling on prose literacy and numeracy appears to be covered by the completed education and computer use variables.

Variables associated with higher or lower literacy and numeracy

To summarise, the following variables were associated with greater percentages of people aged 25-65 having higher prose literacy and numeracy (Levels 3, 4 and 5):

  • Labour force status of employed or student
  • Being employed and using a computer at work
  • Using a computer at home
  • Especially, the combination of using a computer at work AND at home

Conversely, the following variables were associated with smaller percentages of people aged 25-65 having higher prose literacy and numeracy, that is, with a greater percentage of people having low prose literacy and numeracy (Levels 1 and 2):

  • Labour force status of unemployed, retired, homemaker or other
  • Being employed but not using a computer at work
  • Not using a computer at home
  • Especially, the combination of not using a computer at work AND not using a computer at home

The strong relationships between work and home computer use and prose literacy and numeracy require further explanation, and accordingly the next chapter explores this issue in greater depth.

Footnote

  1. It is not possible to explore work computer use in further detail. The survey did not include such questions as to what extent or for what purposes people used computers at work.

 Copyright © Education Counts 2014   |   Contact information.officer@minedu.govt.nz for enquiries.