Singaporean children are the most advanced readers on the planet
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Singaporean children are the most advanced readers on the planet

THEIR 15-year-olds top global tests in maths, reading and science and its universities consistently rank among the best in the world. A new international reading literacy ranking has come out this week showing that its 10-year-olds aren’t too shabby in reading either.

Singaporean schoolchildren are the world’s most advanced readers, according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLs) 2016, which tests fourth-graders in 50 countries and 11 entities on how well they interpreted, integrated, and evaluated story plots and information in relatively complex texts. Topics include the exploration of Mars or Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor.

Close to 30 percent of Singaporean children are advanced readers, more than twice the global average of 12 percent. Both Singapore and the Russian Federation have the highest reading achievement on average, with more than a quarter of their school pupils reaching the PIRLS Advanced International Benchmark.

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Other Asian countries that did well include Hong Kong at 3rd place, Taiwan at 9th place and Macao at 19th place.

The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in Amsterdam has sponsored the study since 2001. This year’s study on 319,000 students from around the world show there are more good readers now compared to 15 years ago, with 11 countries improving since and only two – France and Netherland – declined.

In 48 countries, girls outdo boys, the study found, with an average difference of 19 points, and matched their reading abilities in two — Portugal and Macau. Whereas in mostly Muslim countries as well as in secular South Africa, boys’ reading skills were found to lag particularly behind the girls there.

Parents and policies matter

Professor Tse Shek-kam, the lead investigator in Hong Kong, attributes Singapore’s strong performance its government’s efforts to promote reading, by hiring a reading expert in each school, as well as having national reading centres for both English and Chinese.

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Hong Kong’s drop from second spot from the last edition of the study in 2011, however, can be due to the island state’s parents having a less than enthusiastic approach to reading compared to the global average. Only 17 percent of the local pupils in the study reported having parents with relatively high interest in reading.

“We can see that Hong Kong is not improving in terms of parents’ interest in reading and home education resources,” he told South China Morning Post.

While an Education Bureau spokesperson describes Hong Kong’s decline on the ranking as “not significantly different” from Singapore, Tse and a fellow academic urge for more productive parent-child reading at home and the use of more diverse teaching materials at school, instead of limiting themselves to textbooks.