Thursday 5 December 2019

Irish teens among best in world for reading - report

Photo: PA
Photo: PA
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Irish 15-16 year-olds are holding their position as among the best in the world for reading, according to the latest global student assessment.

They are ranked fourth out of 36 OECD countries, third in the EU and eighth out of a 77 countries covered.

Allowing for differences between national student samples, the Irish can claim to be between first and fifth in the OECD, generally the most highly developed economies in the world.

Irish students are also above the international average for science and maths, although, worryingly, the number of Irish teens performing at the highest levels in these subjects is down.

On a more positive note, Ireland has a lower percentage of low-performing students in reading, science and maths than on average across the OECD.

The study has also exposed how Ireland is lagging behind the OECD in the use of technology in education, with students reporting that where it is used in class it is usually the teacher.

Principals in Ireland were more likely to report issues around lack of technical assistance and the skill levels of teachers as challenges to successful integrations of technology into teaching and learning, than their counterparts elsewhere.

The assessment was conducted on computers and only about half of Irish students had previous experience in this type of testing.

The snapshot of academic performance and use of technology is contained in the latest report from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is conducted every three years. It extended beyond OECD member states and in all, 79 countries and 600,000 students participated, including 5,577 mainly third-year pupils from 157 Irish schools

It was conducted in March-April 2018 and students sat a two hour test and completed a 55-minute questionnaire session.

Ireland’s star turn in reading continues a trend and is boosted by having more students achieving at the highest levels and fewer at the lowest levels.

Some 12pc of Irish students are top performers in reading (up from 11pc 2009) compared with an OECD average of 9pc. Meanwhile 12pc scored in the lowest reading category, about half the international average of 23pc,

Ireland’s average score on reading is on a par with Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Finland, Korea and Poland, but significantly behind Singapore and some of the most developed regions in China.

The reading literacy test goes beyond traditional reading to include online documents, websites and social media involving the use of literacy skills that would not have been common in 2000, when PISA was started.

In science, while Irish students scored significantly higher than the OECD average, the overall trend is negative, in particular the drop in number s achieving at the top of the scale, down almost 4pc since 2006.

Overall, the Irish are ranked 17th out of 37 OECD countries and 11th out of 28 EU countries.

In maths, Irish students ranked 16th in the OECD and 11th in the EU, and, while on average, they scored ahead of their international counterparts, and there was also a decline in top performers.

Encouragingly, the PISA results show the difference in performance between schools in Ireland is lower than the OECD average.

In science. the use of computer in the science assessment puts greater emphasis on the ability to apply skills, rather than knowledge of scientific facts and , according to the Educational Research Centre, Drumcondra, which administers the tests in Ireland, that may, in part, explain the outcomes.

Also, only 2pc of participating Irish students had experienced the new Junior Cycle science curriculum and Gerry Shiel of the ERC said the next PISA round would provide a better estimation of the extent to which the Junior Cycle changes are effective.

Judgment on performance in maths is also on hold pending the 2021 PISA assessment when participating students will have studied the new Junior Cycle maths syllabus.

Education Minister Joe McHugh gave credit to initiatives, such as National Strategy on Literacy and Numeracy and the work of schools and teachers, for Ireland’s strong points, but said there was room for improvement in maths and science.

He said he was “confident that the changes which the Junior Cycle is bringing will help the development of our students’ critical thinking.”

Addressing the level of computer use in schools, Mr McHugh said ongoing Government investment would “ensure students will become more and more adept at using technologies for education.”

Katherine Donnelly

Education Editor

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