International study reveals deteriorating reading skills of Flemish pupils

When it comes to reading comprehension, the performance of Flemish schoolchildren has again declined sharply in recent years. Compared to 2006, they have accumulated a reading deficit of ten months, an international study shows. Flemish Education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) called the figures "dramatic".

The results come from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which examines the reading skills of fourth-graders in dozens of countries every five years. In Flanders, more than 6,700 students from 189 schools participated in the study in the spring of 2021.

As in previous surveys, reading literacy is declining at an alarming rate. Six per cent of pupils do not reach the lowest reading level, which is twice as many as in 2016 and six times as many as in 2006. The group of advanced readers is also very small (3 per cent) and has more than halved compared to 2006 (7 per cent). In 2006, almost half (49 per cent) also reached a high reading level, compared to only 29 per cent today.

Average scores

Flemish pupils still score an average of 511 points in reading comprehension, putting Flanders on a par with Malta, France, Serbia, Cyprus and Albania. Countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Russia are at the top ranking.

European countries such as Finland, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain also score significantly higher in reading comprehension.

"the COVID-19 crisis was also a factor in other countries, and there the level did not drop equally everywhere"

The pandemic and the resulting school closures certainly had an impact on the results in Flanders, but "the COVID-19 crisis was also a factor in other countries, and there the level did not drop equally everywhere," says researcher Katrijn Denies (KU Leuven).

In particular, the number of pupils who never speak Dutch at home has risen sharply. Flemish pupils in the first year of school are also less likely to have basic reading skills. The reading climate at home is also less favourable in Flanders than in other countries.

"Schools and the government cannot do it alone"

Education Minister Weyts urges parents to help improve their children's reading skills. "Schools and the government cannot do it alone. Expose your children to Dutch outside school hours. Read them lots of stories and go to the library," he says.


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