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Hong Kong schools

Study spells it out on children’s reading

With city slipping from the top of an international literacy table, we all have an important role to play in fostering a stronger reading culture among youngsters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 1:15am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 1:15am

That reading and literacy are declining in the age of the internet has long been a widely held belief. Increasingly, our eyes prefer visual to textual; and our fingers are more familiar with touch screens than book pages. The death knell for reading and writing is nigh, so it would seem. But if a global study of reading is any reference, the situation is not as bad as it seems. According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2016, Hong Kong children are indeed among the world’s best. Although the city slipped in the rankings to third from the top spot five years ago, with Russia moving up from second followed by Singapore, the drop in its score was statistically insignificant.

It is encouraging to hear that the reading ability of our younger generation remains strong. But the findings also underline the need for continuous improvement in an increasingly competitive global environment. There is no room for complacency, especially when some of our scores are well below the world average. Our children came last in terms of engagement in reading, and just 36 per cent said they enjoyed reading very much, compared to the global average of 45 per cent.

Hong Kong slips to third place in reading literacy ranking, behind Russia and Singapore

The government swiftly claimed credit in a press statement, attributing the children’s success to the city’s education. But it says something about our system when pupils excel but do not really enjoy their studies or show any enthusiasm towards them.

Parents would also do well to reflect on their approach. The study showed little difference in the reading scores of pupils given tuition outside schools, but there seems to be a correlation between parents’ interests in books and their children’s literacy and reading skills. Generally, parents who enjoy reading have children with higher attainment. Sadly, the percentage of Hong Kong parents who liked reading was just 17, compared to the international average of 32.

Our busy lifestyles and the growing influence of the digital media make reading a luxury. But the government, schools and parents certainly have an important role to play in fostering a stronger reading culture among the younger generation.