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Reading for enjoyment key to education success

New Zealand’s performance in an international education test has reached a new low and a drop in reading for enjoyment is being named as one of the factors.

The OECD Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) study is conducted every three years and ranks the educational achievement of 15-year-olds across 35 developed countries. It’s considered the most robust international comparison of reading, maths and science skills.

In the most recent study, New Zealand’s achievement levels rank highly among other developed nations, but our long-term performance is declining.

New Zealand's average scores were 508 for science (down from 513 in 2015), 506 for reading (509 in 2015), and 494 for maths (495 in 2015).

Among concerns about school bullying and achievement inequality have emerged worries about our students' reading habits and abilities.

More than half of the New Zealand children in the study reported reading only if they ‘had to’, and 43% said they did not read for enjoyment.

This figure corresponds to recent Read NZ Te Pou Muramura research that shows that reading rates are declining. The organisation’s 2018 study Book Reading in New Zealand reports that 86% of adults had read or started to read at least one book in the past year, down from 88% the previous year.

Its 2019 study Reading in a Digital Age looked at how reading material and habits are changing as our lives move increasingly online. It found that Kiwis spend half their waking lives online, flick between multiple texts at any given time, and are less likely to engage in long text due to digital distraction.

Ministry of Education’s deputy secretary, evidence, data and knowledge Craig Jones told RNZ the government was investing in children's literacy and strengthening parents' ability to read at home which was crucial to literacy development.

While a range of elements contributed to the long-term fall in PISA scores, reading for enjoyment must be considered an important factor. "It's very strongly related to reading achievement and more kids are saying that they're just not reading for enjoyment anymore," he said.

Read NZ Te Pou Muramura CEO Jo Cribb says the recent results are sad but strengthen the organisation’s mission to grow a nation of readers.

“International research strongly suggests that reading for enjoyment correlates with reading and other academic achievement,” she says.

“The ability to read is the passport to education and employment and participation in society. It’s how we access and analyse media, gain knowledge, and participate in democracy.

“We must stop expecting only schools to address this growing issue - the role of parents, whānau and wider society is critical too. Our children need to see adults reading. We are their first teachers.”

Read NZ Te Pou Muramura has been running literacy programmes in schools and reading campaigns for more than 40 years including Writers in Schools.

Its current partnership with NZ Cricket, the Super Smash Reading Challenge, offers young readers prizes and a competitive national leaderboard to encourage them to read for fun over the summer.

Super Smash Reading Challenge
Book Reading in NZ 2018 research report
Reading in a Digital Age 2019 research report


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