English Students Falling Behind Other Nations on Reading

A Department for Education study suggests English 15-year-olds are roughly one year behind the reading standard of their counterparts in South Korea and Finland, writes Jeevan Vasagar at the Guardian.

The study suggests an English pupil who achieved eight Cs at GCSE would have to score 3 As and 5 Bs to match the attainment of their peers in Shanghai.

Commenting on the findings, the schools minister Nick Gibb said:

"The gulf between our 15-year-olds' reading abilities and those from other countries is stark – a gap that starts to open in the very first few years of a child's education. The government's focus on raising standards of reading in the early years of primary school is key to closing that gap."

The government will announce a £50,000 grant to run five summer camps for about 1,000 pupils from disadvantaged homes. The camps are to offer classes in literacy and math as well as vocational subjects such as music and sport.

The government's findings are drawn from an analysis of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's research. The OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) involved numeracy, literacy and science tests of about 470,000 15-year-olds around the world in 2009, writes Vasagar.

The latest PISA data found that the UK performed around the average among OECD countries for reading and math, and above average for science. The highest performing region across all the tests was Shanghai, with a mean score of 556. The second highest scoring was Korea with 539, and Finland was third, with 536.

The OECD says the Chinese education system is focused on passing exams:

"There is a general belief that [the] emphasis on examinations jeopardizes the genuine development of young people and is detrimental … but few effective solutions have emerged to reduce or minimize examination pressures."

In contrast, this Guardian article highlights how children in Finland receive fewer hours of instruction than students in any other OECD country.

The Finnish system is based on recruiting talented graduates as teachers and then giving them freedom to decide how they will teach.

Finnish classrooms take a child-centered approach. The OECD says:

"Students are expected to work collaboratively in teams on projects, and there is a substantial focus on projects that cut across traditional subject or disciplinary lines. By the time students enroll in upper secondary school, they are expected to be able to take sufficient charge of their own learning to be able to design their own individual program."

There is also a political consensus governing education: Finland has an entirely comprehensive system with no private schools and no selection below the age of 16.

10 12, 2011
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