More and more children cannot read properly towards the end of primary school. And those who can hardly read are missing the most important basis for further schooling with correspondingly poor future prospects.
One in four fourth-graders in Germany is at risk of being left behind or failing later in school due to serious weaknesses in reading. According to a study, the proportion of pupils in this age group who cannot read properly has increased sharply in recent years.
According to this, 25 percent do not reach the minimum level that would be necessary for the requirements in the further course of school. Internationally, primary school students in Germany are only in the middle when it comes to reading skills.
This can be read in the international primary school reading study (Igloo) presented in Berlin on Tuesday, which tests and compares the reading skills of fourth graders in Germany and more than 60 countries and regions every five years.
More and more students with reading difficulties
The authors describe the proportion of pupils with reading difficulties as “alarmingly high”. In the previous igloo survey, which was published at the end of 2017, it was still 19 percent – and even then all the alarm lights were already on.
The students concerned would “have considerable difficulties in almost all school subjects” in their further school career if they could not catch up, according to the study. She gives bad marks to German education policy: the goals for the further development of education in Germany formulated by the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK) more than 20 years ago in the wake of the so-called Pisa shock were missed in many places.
Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger also described the results as “alarming”. Being able to read well is one of the most important basic skills and the foundation for educational success, said the FDP politician. The study shows that an “educational trend reversal” is urgently needed.
Iglu confirms other studies
The findings of Iglu are in line with the poor results of other education studies: In 2022, the IQB education trend, a test series among fourth graders that is also regular, showed that they had fallen significantly behind in the so-called basic skills in math and German in recent years.
In addition, the well-known finding of other studies is also confirmed here: children from privileged homes have better chances of educational success than other children. The 20-year trend shows neither an increase nor a reduction in this problem. In terms of educational equity, “practically nothing has changed,” the scientists conclude.
4600 students tested
The igloo tests have been carried out every five years since 2001. The Institute for School Development Research at the TU Dortmund is responsible. Federal states and the Federal Ministry of Education support the project. The current survey dates from 2021. Around 4,600 students from 252 fourth grades in Germany took part. In total, there were around 400,000 students from 65 states and regions. The children were presented with factual and narrative texts and had to solve the associated comprehension tasks on the laptop.
What it means to be able to read “not correctly”.
Depending on the result, the students achieve one of five so-called reading competency levels. If they end up in the lower two competence levels I and II, it is assumed that they have hardly acquired sufficient reading skills for further school learning and active participation, i.e. they cannot understand texts well enough to do something with them.
Singapore at the top
Singapore took the top spot in the igloo study with 587 points, followed by South Africa with 288 points. With 524 points in an international reading comparison, fourth-graders in Germany land in the middle, around the EU and OECD average. After initially improving in the mid-2000s, the figure has now fallen to its lowest level for the third consecutive year.
Singapore or countries like Russia or Slovenia have been able to grow significantly over the past two decades. “In Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, on the other hand, there is a problematic development,” says the report.
The scientists blame the corona restrictions in schools for part of the development. The composition of the student body is also an issue, said Nele McElvany, head of studies at the igloo. “If the family language isn’t German, that’s a different support situation for the elementary school (…)”.
Another possible indication could also be that in German elementary schools, on average, about 60 minutes less per week is spent on reading lessons and “reading-related activities” than the EU and OECD average.
More reading in school and early support
The Igloo research team advises “clear prioritization” in elementary schools and recommends more reading-related activities in the classroom, catch-up classes in small groups and individual support, as well as promoting early language support. Singapore is given as a positive example, where, for example, comprehensive testing of reading ability and “precursor skills” at the beginning of the first class and targeted support were introduced.
With all the shadows, there is also some light in the igloo study. The children were not only tested but also questioned. It turned out that the motivation to read is still high and that they enjoy going to school. That’s a pound, McElvany said. According to the study, “school satisfaction” and “school joy” are also relevant for academic and professional success.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.