Sunday 16 June 2019

Irish 10-year-olds are the best in Europe at reading - international study

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

Irish 10-year-olds are the best in Europe at reading, according to the biggest international assessment of pupil achievement.

The reading skills of the country’s fourth class pupils improved dramatically over a five year period.

The results show that the overall score for Irish pupils in traditional reading jumped by 15 points since 2011 – and they also excelled in a new online assessment.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is based on findings from 340,000 pupils from 50 countries around the world.

The study, the largest global assessment of reading ability among primary aged pupils, was conducted in 2016. 

The 4,881 Irish 10-year-olds who participated did their schools and country proud, with across the board improvements, from the weakest readers to the top achievers.

PIRLS included a separate assessment in online reading, known as ePIRLS, in which 14 countries participated and where the Irish also came out  tops in Europe.

Key findings from the main PIRLS assessment show that no country in Europe is better than Ireland for reading skills at primary level.

Ireland’s score of 567 was the highest in Europe, although deemed to be in a "dead heat" with Finland, Poland and Northern Ireland, who tied at 566.

The only countries significantly ahead of Ireland were the Russian Federation and Singapore, at 581 and 576, respectively

Irish pupils’ overall reading achievement score has improved by 15 points since the last cycle of the study in 2011.

While no one reason is being given for the dramatic rise in achievement, it coincides with the roll-out of the  Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, launched in 2011. That included measures such as  teacher training, 30 minutes extra a day for reading and maths and school self-evaluation.

Other key findings for Ireland include:

*  gender gap is smaller than the gap internationally, and this gap has narrowed significantly in Ireland, as boys make greater strides

*  the number of pupils  with only basic reading skills has dropped significantly

*   the percentage of  pupils with advanced reading skills rose from 16pc in 2011 to 21pc in 2016, which is much higher than the international average

*  pupils performed exceptionally well on the new online reading assessment and only Singapore outperformed Ireland.

As well as assessing reading ability, PIRLS also surveyed parents on a range of related issues including how often they read to their children.

The Irish showed themselves to be particularly enthusiastic, with 92pc responding, compared with below 50pc in some countries.

Education Minister Richard Bruton described the Irish performance as “fantastic” and paid tribute to all principals, teachers and all those who made it possible.

“I have set the ambition to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026. There are many aspects to achieving this ambition but few are more important than the ability of our education system to equip our children with exceptional literacy skills," he said.

Eemer Eivers, of the Educational Research centre, Drumcondra, and one of the report’s authors, said that “The results of the online reading assessment – ePIRLS – were particularly interesting.

“This is the first assessment of its kind at primary level and it is encouraging to see that most Irish pupils had little or no difficulty navigating through the complex online scenarios they encountered. Equally, they seem able to evaluate information in a digital environment – for example, identifying the more reliable sources of information and integrating information from multiple web pages.”

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