Friday, 11 July 2008

Lower reading skills in EU

The "Annual report on education systems in the EU" for 2008 shows diminishing reading skills among under 15-years olds in EU countries.

The report is part of the monitoring of the Lisbon strategy. It compares 16 monitoring indicators (e.g. literacy, investment in education and training, civic skills, higher education graduates, learning to learn skills) and measures 5 benchmarks with clear goals for 2010:
  • No more than 10% early school leavers;
  • Decrease of at least 20% in the percentage of low-achieving pupils in reading literacy;
  • At least 85% of young people should have completed upper secondary education;
  • Increase of at least 15% in the number of tertiary graduates in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST), with a simultaneous decrease in the gender imbalance;
  • 12.5% of the adult population should participate in lifelong learning).

While EU Commissioner Ján Figel can report slight progress in most areas - for example rising numbers of higher education graduates - the only benchmark with negative development is the one connected to literacy. EUobservers titles "EU struggles with growing teen illiteracy". In fact, if almost 25% of under 15 year olds have poor reading skills and the figure has risen by 3 percentage points from 2000 to 2006, then this is a problem. The countries with the highest illiteracy are Romania (53.5%), Bulgaria (51.1%), followed by Greece, Italy, and Spain (all above 25%).

Among the main messages of the report is also, that
[g]ender inequalities remain. Boys do less well at reading and have more special education needs. Girls do less well at mathematics and are underrepresented among mathematics, science and technology students and graduates.

The report shows that while the EU has a comparatively well developed education system, large regional disparities cast a shadow over the high goal of a European Union knowledge society ready for the 21st century. Some countries and regions are well ahead of the goals set for 2010, other will need much longer to get to this point.

This is not only bad for a "competitive economy" but also disastrous for a European society where some parts of the population can take part in the intellectual and technical developments while (according to the report) about 1/3 of all the population might be left behind.

And I doubt that as long as we spend billions on a last century's agricultural policy while ignoring the need to invest all along the "educational chain", from the youngest kindergarten child to the oldest active parts of the population, the EU as whole will make good progress.