Reading standards among primary school children in the Netherlands have dropped sharply and children are enjoying reading less, according to an international study involving 10-year-olds in 57 countries.
The Pirls study (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) is carried out every five years. In the most recent edition, based on figures from 2021, Dutch children came 18th in the ranking and the organisation described the 18 point drop in the Dutch score as “significant”.
Schools minister Dennis Wiersma, briefing MPs on the results, said Covid is no reason to downplay the findings. “For the first time in 15 years the Netherlands no longer scores above average when compared to the comparison group of 21 Western countries,” he said.
In the Netherlands, 4,313 pupils at 131 primary school pupils took part in the survey, which took place shortly after schools were reopened after six months of coronavirus closures. The Pirl researchers warn that care should be taken in interpreting the results because of the impact of Covid.
Only 11 of the countries studied avoided significant declines on the list, which was topped by Singapore, Hong Kong and Russia. Finland and Poland headed the list of EU member states.
Television programme Pointer spoke to several experts to try to determine why Dutch children perform so much worse than their peers.
Pirls researcher Nicole Swart said that other research shows Dutch teenagers perform relatively well in looking up information and understanding it, but would appear to have more difficulty in evaluating what they have read.
“Some countries have a more regulated curriculum, which dictates what schools should offer and how they should teach it,” she said. “We have freedom of education which allows schools to offer subjects as they want.”
Some teachers have criticised the way the Netherlands selects pupils for different streams of secondary education at an early age and have argued this has led to schools teaching ‘tricks’.
“It could be that schools focus on shorter texts because that is the method they use,” Swarte said. “The Pirls text are longer, with 12 to 15 questions, and they may be less used to this. In addiditon, Pirls research uses a relatively large number of open questions to which pupils have to formulate answers rather than multiple choice.”
Last week, the Dutch schools inspectorate warned that the standard of Dutch in secondary school was slipping and said that pupils who fail their Dutch school exams should not be granted a leaving certificate.
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