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Strong Performance by Singapore Students in Reading Literacy Despite COVID-19 Pandemic: International Study

Published Date: 16 May 2023 04:00 PM

News Press Releases

Singapore's Primary 4 (P4) students continued to perform well in reading literacy by international standards, according to the results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2021. Conducted every five years, PIRLS is an international study that measures students' reading literacy at Grade 4 (equivalent to P4 in Singapore), an important transition point in our children's development as readers, when they would have learned how to read, and are starting to read to learn. A representative sample of 6,719 randomly selected P4 students across all 183 primary schools in Singapore participated in the study from October to November 2020.

Singapore Students Continued to Demonstrate Strong Reading Literacy Skills Despite COVID-19 Disruptions

2. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic's widespread disruptions to learning and life globally, Singapore improved its reading literacy scores from PIRLS 2016 (mean score of 576) to 2021 (mean score of 587). This also makes Singapore the only education system where students have made steady progress over the past 20 years since the PIRLS study was first administered in 2001. Singapore's performance may be due to factors such as the refinements made to our English Language teaching and learning curriculum over the past two decades, the programmes in place to help students who need additional literacy support, and the efforts made by schools and teachers to ensure students could continue learning effectively throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. (Please refer to Annex A for the mean scores of participating education systems in PIRLS 2021).

Singapore Students Across All Academic Abilities and Backgrounds Performed Well

3. All our P4 students performed very well in both foundational (Singapore: 584; international average: 502) and higher-order reading skills (Singapore: 591; international average: 503) compared to their international peers. Our students could confidently navigate in a digital environment, interpreting and integrating information across texts to draw out central ideas and reasons for actions and outcomes. They could also make simple judgments about the credibility of information and evaluate the perspective, point of view and bias in a text. (Please refer to Annex B for examples of texts and items used for the PIRLS 2021 assessment).

4. More than one-third (35%) of our students achieved the highest "Advanced" international benchmark in PIRLS 2021, compared to the international median of 7%, demonstrating high competency in reading difficult texts and displaying higher-order thinking skills. At the same time, Singapore's 10th percentile score of 473 is also among the highest across all participating education systems.

5. Despite concerns that the pandemic could have impacted the learning of P4 students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) background more so than their peers, the latest PIRLS found that the reading performance gaps between Singapore students from lower-SES homes and higher-SES homes did not widen between 2016 and 2021. The Ministry of Education (MOE) will continue to support students across all academic abilities and backgrounds to maximise their potential, by continuing to uplift those who need more support. (Please refer to Annex C for more information on our curriculum and literacy support programmes.)

Singapore Students Remain Confident of Their Reading Abilities

6. Similar to previous years, Singapore students continue to be confident of their reading abilities. 84% of our students reported being confident of their reading ability compared to the international average of 78%. Compared to 48% in PIRLS 2016, 51% of our students indicated that they were very confident of their reading ability in PIRLS 2021.

7. Our students also reported a higher level of engagement during reading lessons in schools in PIRLS 2021 than in 2016. For example, 49% of our students "agreed a lot" that their teachers provide interesting reading materials, up from 40% in 2016.

More Effort Needed to Promote Love for Reading

8. While the findings indicate that our P4 students were proficient and confident in reading, fewer of them reported enjoying reading over the years. The proportion of students who reported "enjoying reading a lot" fell to 51% in 2021, the lowest in a decade (2016: 55%; 2011: 60%). The proportion of students whose parents reported "enjoying reading a lot" also dropped to 48% in 2021 (2016: 53%; 2011: 60%).

9. These observations are not unique to Singapore, and the decline in reading enjoyment may in part be driven by the rapid proliferation of other forms of entertainment and content formats (e.g., social media) over the last decade. MOE will continue to work closely with schools, parents, and partners to cultivate the habit of reading in our students from young, promote reading for pleasure, and build a strong foundation in literacy to support their learning. (Please refer to Annex D for more information on ongoing partnerships that promote the love of reading in our students.)

10. Reflecting on Singapore's performance in PIRLS 2021, Director-General of Education, Ms Liew Wei Li said, "Reading literacy is the foundation for learning, and one of the most important skills that our students acquire in primary school. Our MOE specialists and master teachers have improved our curriculum and strengthened the capabilities of our teachers. Our P4 students continued to demonstrate strong reading literacy by international standards, despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the determination and creativity of our teachers, who had put in tremendous effort to ensure that learning could continue through the pandemic, as well as the close partnership of parents in adapting to circumstances."

11. "Building a strong culture of reading takes a whole-of-society effort. We thank parents and community partners for their dedication towards fostering good reading habits in our young, and in nurturing them to become confident, competent readers. The Ministry of Education will continue to work closely with schools, parents, and the community to equip our students with skills and competencies to thrive in the future," Ms Liew added.