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Study: Literacy skills declining among Finnish kids

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) examines the reading comprehension of fourth grade students around the world every 5 years.

Koululainen oppitunnilla, opettaja.
The international report found that reading skills among fourht graders in Finland declined across all regions of the country, and within all socio-economic groups. File photo. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle
Yle News

Finland's fourth-graders dropped down four places in the latest PIRLS international ranking of reading skills.

Finnish students scored an average of 549 points, 17 points lower than in 2016, which the report noted was statistically "a very significant change."

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) has assessed the reading comprehension of fourth grade students around the world every 5 years since 2001. Data research for the latest study was conducted in 2021, during the Covid pandemic, with 57 countries participating.

The top results were achieved by fourth grade students in Singapore (587 points) and Hong Kong (573 points), while the lowest scores were in South Africa (288) and Egypt (378).

Despite the apparent decline in Finnish reading standards, pupils in Finland still rank among the best in the world in this and other international comparative studies.

In the PIRLS study, students' skills were measured by an exam and data was also collected through four questionnaires: addressed to the student, the teacher, the school and the home.

Research for the study in Finland was carried out by the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Culture. Finland previously participated in the study in 2016 and 2011.

The All Points North podcast delved into the reasons why Finland -- once global education's star pupil -- has been falling behind the rest of the class. Article continues after audio.

Number of poor readers nearly doubles

A series of reports and studies in recent years have pointed to the fact that education standards are slipping in the Finnish system, and this trend was also reflected in the results of the PIRLS study.

The PIRLS report noted that the number of students in Finland whose reading level is considered to be "poor" has almost doubled since the last, similar survey was carried out in 2016.

In 2021, 14 percent of Finnish students had a reading level of "excellent", while 16 percent scored a low or very low level. The corresponding figures in 2016 were 18 percent and 9 percent respectively.

Breaking down the figures further, the report found that the decline in reading skills in Finland was evident across the country, and within all socio-economic groups.

The decline is explained by a number of different factors, including children's confidence in their own reading skills, the literacy skills they acquired before starting school, and how much parents read with their children.

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