Bozsik Viola

Reading Levels and Europe's Future

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Dr. Attila Nagy is the founding president of the Hungarian Reading Association and researcher of the National Széchényi Library. In 2011-2012, he was a member of the EU High Level Group of Experts on Literacy. His opening speech, given on the 20th April 2015 at the ELINET conference in Budapest can be read below.

Since the meetings of the High Level Group in Brussels, I have mused on this: Where is Europe now in terms of the PISA results for reading literacy, and what are the implications for our future?

Consider which were the top 10 countries in various PISA rounds:

In PISA 2000: Finland – Canada – New Zealand – Australia – Ireland – Korea – UK – Japan – Sweden – Austria.

In PISA 2006: Korea – Finland – Hong Kong – Canada – New Zealand – Ireland – Australia – Liechtenstein – Poland – Sweden  (with Japan in 15th place, Taiwan 16th, Macao 21st).

In PISA 2009: Shanghai – Korea – Finland – Hong Kong – Singapore – Canada – New Zealand – Japan – Australia – The Netherlands.

In PISA 2012: Shanghai – Hong Kong – Singapore – Japan – Korea – Finland and Ireland – Taiwan – Canada – Poland.

Of course some other European countries also performed excellently: Liechtenstein, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France, Norway, with the Czech Republic, Denmark and the United Kingdom near the average level, and Italy, Austria, Latvia, Hungary, Spain, Luxembourg, Portugal, Croatia, Sweden and Iceland just below that – but Greece, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria near the end of the table. What is more, these differences are strongly related to the levels of GDP.

So we can say Europe is not unified, our old continent is diverse, and indeed the average performance in reading literacy of our 15-year-olds decreased slightly between 2000 and 2009. In addition, several Asian countries have leapfrogged us to the top of the table. To me, this raises several highly important questions: what will our future in Europe be in education, cultural life, and the economy? We need to plan and to create a turning point in the educational system, in cultural institutions, and in the economy and business. If not, our common European future could be very much at risk.

Babits Mihaly, a well-known Hungarian poet of the last century, said: „Reading books teaches us to live, speak and think.” (This is why we teach literature in the schools.) Mostly we speak only about knowledge and skills, and we often forget what it means to be happy, how we can cope with conflicts, how we can be resilient people. It is absolutely obvious that we need these skills too.


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