'Corrected' Pirls puts HK students top

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 October, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong's primary students would have come top in an international literacy study if age had been taken into account, a leading academic said this week.

Jan Van Damme, professor of education at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, said scores from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study needed to be corrected for the variation between different countries' sample groups.

Professor Van Damme's findings cast doubt over the legitimacy of the influential study's much-touted national rankings, which are based on native-language literacy tests for children in their fourth year of school in 45 countries and regions.

Hong Kong ranked second in the most recent round, released last November, behind Russia. The average age of Hong Kong students was 10 years old; in Russia it was 10.8. The oldest sample was from South Africa (11.9); the youngest was Italy (9.7).

Professor Van Damme and two other researchers compared the change in achievement for each country or region between the 2001 and 2006 rounds of Pirls and compared that to the change in the average age of their sample group, and discovered a direct link. 'The new ranking in my opinion is a better ranking. Hong Kong wins. They beat Russia after my correction,' he said.

Delivering his findings at an international conference in Beijing this week, Professor Van Damme said socio-economic factors also needed to be factored in.

Tse Shek-kam, professor of education at the University of Hong Kong and head of the team that produced the Hong Kong Pirls report, welcomed the news.