PISA 2018 results show that reading engagement in Norway is declining

PISA 2018 revealed generally stable results in reading compared to 2000 and 2009.

Teenagers reading books and iPhones. Illustration photo.

Boys read even less in their leisure time than they used to (Photo: Colourbox).

However, the group of boys who struggle with reading seems to be increasing. Declining reading engagement among teenagers could be to blame. This is particularly intresting to Astrid Roe, PI of the LISA Nordic study, where researchers investigate what happens in the classroom - also when it comes to teaching reading. Prior to working in QUINT, Roe worked with the PISA tests for many years. 

More boys struggle with reading

The PISA 2018 results that were released 3rd December show that there is a significant gender difference in Norway when it comes to reading; more than twice as many boys as girls struggle with reading.  Research Professor at QUINT and the University of Oslo, Astrid Roe explains that in Norway we have always had more than twice as many boys who fall below level two, which is referred to as the critical limit of reading literacy. Falling below could ultimately mean facing problems in further education. 

 -  What is worrying is that since the PISA 2015 result, the number of boys falling behind seems to be increasing. These boys risk dropping out of higher education and even if they go into vocational training, they will need to read a lot and those texts are not necessarily easy, Roe maintains.

- You cannot escape reading whatever you do now. Even the manual workers have to read manuals for technical equipment and understand what they are reading. 

We see the same tendency across all Nordic countries, and it is worrying.  One explanation might be that boys read even less in their leisure time than they used to. Because of gaming and other computer-based activities, very few of them sit down to read a book. 

- Book reading is extensive reading over time. If you are going to improve anything, you have to practice it, Roe emphasises. And if you never practice reading, your reading competence will decline. 

Reading engagement has declined dramatically

- One of the bigger changes we see, is that boys have stopped reading in their spare time, unless they have to, Roe reports. Boys generally read less than girls. The gender differences are significant in terms of reading, reading engagement, reading habits, and reading practice as a typical leisure time activity – a majority of the boys simply won’t do that. 

In fact, when it comes to reading engagement, Norwegian teenagers -both boys and girls- rank second worse across the OECD. Only in the Netherlands is reading engagement lower among the 15-year olds. PISA data shows that in 2009, 40% of teenagers didn’t read in their leisure time, as opposed to 50% in 2018.

Reading online has increased

- We can see that online reading has increased, whilst reading books has decreased. It could be said that online reading has replaced reading longer texts on paper, Roe suggests. 

- The data shows that there is a big difference between those who read books on paper and those who read books on screen. The difference is in favour of paper. The ones reading on screen are not much better readers than the ones who don’t read books at all, Roe explains. 

- This raises questions on what kind of reading do they do on screen; do they read the whole book for example, and how do they read it? Those reading books on paper may be more in control of what they do. 

Students background decisive when it comes to reading engagement

In general PISA 2018 results showed that in Norway the students’ socioeconomic background doesn’t have as much to say when it comes to school performance as in many other OECD countries. However, when it comes to reading engagement, we can assume that the ones reading books on paper come from homes where there are books on the shelves, and where they see their parents reading or receive books as presents. 

When it comes to reading engagement, the parents’ background can be decisive. Roe has compared the average reading scores for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds (low, average and high) and with varying reading engagements (low, average, and high). Those who come from a low socioeconomic background, are often low performers.

- However, the performance increases by reading engagement. If a student from a low socio-economic background has a high reading engagement, he or she will perform a lot better.

Teachers may be able to contribute to reading engagement, which could compensate to a certain extent for the lack of cultural and socio-economic support from home. If teachers can get students interested in reading, this will over time improve their performance.

Teachers can contribute to better interest in reading

We can also see that if a student comes from a home with a high socio-economic background, but isn’t interested in reading, then he or she won’t perform very well. The correlation is significant.

- Schools cannot change the students’ socio-economic backgrounds, of course, but they can contribute to better attitudes to and interest in reading. And this is something schools have room to improve on.

Teachers are in a position to do something. Reading engagement is the key, but they can also talk to parents about the importance of reading. 

- Teaching reading strategies, improving reading attitudes and increasing reading engagement are some of the things schools can do something about, Roe highlights. But it is hard to compete against computer games and computer activities. Students spend a lot of time being on their phones. What kind of reading is that? We can see it ourselves how distracting that can be.  

In addition, school libraries should be better equipped. Whenever costs have to be cut, it often ends up resulting in cutting school libraries and librarians. When I ask children why they won’t borrow books from the school library, Roe recounts, they tell me that the books in the library are old and boring, or that they’ve already read all the books that are there. 

Roe emphasises that reading needs to be practiced. Even adult readers who stop reading will see their skills decline. But there is hope, the new curriculum emphasises deep learning, and that is in line with deep reading and reading longer texts. 

By Larissa Lily, QUINT/UiO
Published Dec. 9, 2019 2:36 PM - Last modified Dec. 13, 2019 12:51 PM