How can literacy be improved?

The results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study have been announced. The PIRLS assessment has been conducted every five years in around 60 countries worldwide since 2001. The results now released are from 2021, the second year of the pandemic, and give Europe's press food for thought.

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Dnevnik (SI) /

Teaching profession needs upgrade

The reading skills of pupils in Slovenia (520 points) has also declined. The planned education reform will not be an easy undertaking, Dnevnik fears:

“The question is how to implement the reform since the basic prerequisite for better results is lacking: qualified teachers. Over the coming five-year cycle of the PIRLS assessment there will be a shortage of teachers as the last teachers from the baby boomers retire. So a campaign is needed to enhance the prestige of the teaching profession and strengthen the position of teachers. This means that when salaries in the public sector are under discussion the expectations of the trade unions must be taken into account. The deterioration in literacy is only a symptom of a larger insecurity that pervades the education sector.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Focus on pleasurable reading instead of tests

In the Netherlands (527 points), the school inspectorate wants to react to the decline in reading comprehension by no longer awarding a diploma to students with insufficient grades in Dutch. A bad idea, says NRC columnist Christiaan Weijts:

“Teachers will train their students even more fanatically for the circus act of 'reading comprehension'. ... But having real language skills means being able to formulate a train of thought, clearly, playfully, imaginatively, and you learn that above all by reading a lot. ... To enhance language skills what you need is seduction, not tricks and not training. Plan in fixed times for reading and writing practice, books, paper, soft pillows. ... More pleasure through reading and writing, fewer exams.”

La Tribune de Genève (CH) /

The dictatorship of spelling

La Tribune de Genève calls for thorough reflection on the usefulness of elaborate language rules:

“All too often there are those who have mastered them and those who have not. And then there are those who despise others for their ignorance and those who forget a little too quickly that French is so complex that no one is safe from the dictionary's guillotine. Heads may not roll, but people will be silenced. ... Spelling is becoming a dictator whose rules you have to know before you can write anything. ... But let's not forget that the goal of a language is that everyone can express themselves. And that when it comes to the spelling bee, ChatGPT has already won.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Pressure on teachers growing again

Flanders (511 points) has dropped several places in the international literacy ranking. De Morgen fears:

“Now the pressure is on the teachers. Not only do they need to get future ten-year-olds to read more and better, they must above all ensure that today's schoolchildren don't become a lost generation. The big trap with studies like this, however, is that they lead to defeatism among teachers and schools. When you give your best day after day but are confronted with poor results again and again, this is a normal reaction. But that would be a real tragedy.”

Badische Zeitung (DE) /

Teamwork needed to improve reading skills

It is unacceptable that 25 percent of primary school pupils in Germany (524 points) don't meet the minimum standards, says the Badische Zeitung:

“Every child must have the opportunity to learn to read, otherwise those who do not speak German at home or who are not read to in the evenings will be left behind, first at school and then socially. Politicians, local authorities, parents and schools must pull together and introduce measures that have long since proven successful elsewhere, such as language tests for all four-year-olds, language support in daycare centres and schools, and special training for teachers. What could also help: shifting the focus back to basic competencies. Another PIRLS finding is that reading times at German primary schools are comparatively low at 141 minutes per week (OECD average: 205 minutes).”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

Reading on an empty stomach hurts performance

The Irish Examiner warns that despite Ireland's high ranking (577 points) there are certain warning signs that should not be overlooked:

“Ireland has ranked amongst the top in the world when it comes to the reading prowess of our primary school children, a point of pride for a country with such a strong literary connection. ... While this is all to be celebrated, that's not to say that Covid's effect on the education system cannot be seen in the published reports. A number of key targets, set in 2017, particularly those aiming to tackle educational disadvantage, have been missed. ... More than one in 10 pupils in Ireland (11%) felt hungry every day on arrival at school. ... Pupils who arrived hungry every day had the lowest mean achievement score, while pupils who never arrived hungry had the highest.”

The Times (GB) /

Better handling of pandemic situation

England improving its ranking by four places (to 558 points) is above all thanks to the commitment of its teachers, parents and schoolchildren during the pandemic, praises The Times:

“England rose in the ranking not because its performance improved but because that of countries such as Finland and Poland, which had previously done better than England, declined. The test is, thus, evidence of the damage that Covid did to education. So it is to the credit of England's teachers, parents and children that under such difficult circumstances pupils scored only one point less than their counterparts had five years earlier.”