07 December 2023, by Emily Proctor

The reading skills of Dutch schoolchildren are deteriorating, according to the international PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment). The study, which is carried out by researchers from the OECD, found that Dutch children score better in mathematics and science than reading, but those skills are also in decline. 

Dutch school students score the worst when it comes to reading 

According to the PISA scale, there are six levels for categorising reading skills, where level one is the lowest. The study stipulates that to function well as part of society, students should be able to read at least at a level two standard by the time they are 15. 

One-third of 15-year-old school students in the Netherlands are not up to this standard, and according to the study, run the risk of graduating from the school system with low literacy. The number of students who do not progress beyond level one of reading has also increased – in 2018, a quarter of school students were unable to progress beyond level one by the time they were fifteen years old – that proportion has now risen to one-third.

The outgoing Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Mariëlle Paul commented on the findings, telling NOS: “It can and must be much better. Because you really need these basic skills to be able to participate in society. For example, if you want to understand the package leaflet on medicines, or if you have to arrange your banking affairs.”

Students in other European countries are facing similar educational decline

The Dutch are not alone in their struggles. According to the PISA study, students in other European countries are not performing as well as during the last study, in 2018. Many experts put a lot of this decline down to the disruption caused to education by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Schools are still working hard to eliminate the delays due to corona and to ensure that students feel good again,” Minister Paul explained to NOS

Not only is it important for teachers and schools to make up lost ground after the COVID-19 lockdowns, but experts in the Netherlands think that the ongoing teacher shortage also plays a key factor in the Dutch educational decline. 

NOS spoke to headteacher Freek van Gurp of Akhenaten Secondary School in Almere about the teacher shortage. “It’s horrible, especially for a super-diverse VMBO-HAVO school like ours. I can hardly find teachers. It’s good that we receive subsidies to support our students who need extra help, but I know “I don’t know where to get the people from. That’s why this really needs to be picked up nationally. It won’t be solved within a few years,” Van Gurp told the broadcaster.

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