On the map - Reading for enjoyment - Languishing below Pisa average, UK doesn't follow script

15th April 2011 at 01:00

The Pisa study (programme for international student assessment), conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) every three years, is best known for the anxiety it causes politicians around the world. Their chief concern is the standing of their school system in what is seen by some as an international league table.

Of course, the Pisa study is much more than that, although it can promote some interesting questions among national policy-makers in education. In Brazil, for instance, every secondary school is being benchmarked against the results.

As well as the headline data, Pisa contains a wealth of other information about schooling. One aspect, highlighted here, is the percentage of students who read for enjoyment. The figures range from more than 92 per cent in Kazakhstan, to less than 56 per cent in Japan. The UK came in below the OECD average at 60 per cent, the same score as Norway and a little above the US.

But how much is the outcome determined by the success of the education system and how much by other factors? It cannot be the length of the winter nights, since students in Finland scored better than those in Norway, and Sweden came somewhere between the two, despite all being roughly on the same latitudes. Perhaps it is to do with relative wealth, since the countries with the highest percentages of students who enjoy reading are often poor agrarian societies. But the city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore hardly fit that picture.

Students in both of those nations are exposed to TV and computer games in large numbers, although both have governments which regard education as a high priority and invest heavily in schooling. Their relatively close-knit family structures may also support an enjoyment of reading across generations.

What is clear is that in many countries, lower percentages of males than females read for enjoyment. Whether the development of tablets, e-book readers, and other new technology will inspire the next generation of teenage boys to read for enjoyment may depend on whether authors can produce literature to inspire them.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education


OECD average 63%

Source: Pisa 2009

US 58%

UK 60.4%

Norway 60%

Sweden 62.7 %

Finland 67%

Kazakhstan 92.8%

Thailand 90.8%

Singapore 77.5%

Hong Kong 80.5%

Japan 55.8%.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now