Children’s reading skills have fallen faster in the Netherlands than other countries

Dutch children’s reading skills have declined faster in recent years than in other Western countries, said Expertisecentrum Nederlands, which provides advice regarding Dutch language in education. Children in the Netherlands have roughly the same literacy level on average as those in 21 other countries surveyed. It is the first time that has happened in 15 years, the organization said on Tuesday. Researchers concluded that the time missed in classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic is not likely to be the only cause.

It has been known for some time that Dutch youth have had more difficulty with reading in recent years. The Education Inspectorate established this earlier in a report. This latest research also shows that reading skills are declining faster in the Netherlands than in other comparable countries. In a previous study produced in 2016, Dutch primary school students in group six scored even better than the international average. The most recent study uses data from 2021, which showed that Dutch students were at the international average.

For this study, students had to read two pieces of text, and then answer questions about them. During the most recent study in the spring of 2021, this happened just after the second school closure ordered during the coronavirus lockdown. That is part of the explanation, but not the only one, the researchers said.

Dutch schools often work with shorter texts. As a result, students probably have more difficulty with the longer texts used for the study, which have lengths of between 500 and 1,000 words. They said it seems that the students have trouble maintaining concentration for a longer time. They were also not used to the open questions that they had to answer about the texts.

Education Minister Dennis Wiersma said in response to the report that his ministry has allocated billions of euros to make up for shortcomings caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, that is no reason to “downplay” the results, the minister wrote in a letter to Parliament.

He recognized the evidence that there is more to the situation regarding the deteriorating position when students were compared to peers in other countries. The minister said he hopes that a recently announced plan to improve basic skills will help. Wiersma said he feels “unabatedly motivated” to improve students’ reading skills.

Reporting by ANP

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