Out of 58 territories, Singaporean students in Primary 4 ranked second overall in a study that shows how well children read. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study results were published a month ago, and it also showed that Singaporean children are number one in the world when it comes to reading and understanding texts online. They bested students from 13 other countries, including the US, in tasks in which they had to answer questions about information found online.
Since 2001 this study has been done every five years, but this is the first time that one part involves processing information gathered online, in order to understand students’ learning process as digital natives.
Globally, almost 320,000 boys and girls participated in the study, while in Singapore, around 6,500 students from all primary schools took the test administered in 2016. In the literacy study, Russia took the top spot, with Hong Kong, Ireland and Finland coming in 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively.
In the previous test held in 2011, 45 educational systems participated in the test, with Singapore coming in in 4th place.
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement sponsors this exam, which is design to analyze the reading and comprehension skills of students. An example of this would be making textual inferences, as well as retrieving and making connections between data given in a text.
The test was composed of two pieces of reading material. One is a news article or other such information-based material, and the other, a story. Students were then asked to answer a variety of questions based on the material.
Almost 30 percent of Singapore’s examinees reached the “advanced” rank, well above the international average of 10 percent. Singapore reached the greatest level of attainment in both the 2016 and 2011 exams. This means that Singaporean students perform well in evaluating and interpreting information, as well as other high-order skills.
There have been changes in how English has been taught in Singapore’s schools over the last decade, for example, the introduction of the Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading (Stellar). The Ministry of Education (MOE) credits the students’ high ranking to these changes.
The Stellar program teaches vocabulary and grammar through stories and texts, instead of worksheets and books.
According to MOE’s deputy director-general of education, Mr Sng Chern Wei, “We are heartened that the curricular strategies – such as Stellar – which are engaging and factor in our local diverse context, have shown success. Our students have displayed stronger literacy as well as communication and higher-order reading skills, which will ensure they are confident and well positioned to navigate today’s ever-changing society.”
Even students who have performed poorly in the past are doing better. In the 2001 exam, 10 percent of the examinees placed below the “low” ranking. However in 2011 and in the most recent test, only 3 percent remain in this category. Th global average is 14 percent.
The study also showed that parents are vital to the level of children’s literacy. Parents who read to or actively played with their offspring, had children who performed better in the test than children who did not have the same experience, even if they came from a similar economic background.