Respect keeps scores on top

4th July 2003 at 01:00

Finland's teenagers once again emerge as the top performers in reading literacy in the latest Pisa report, with Finnish girls achieving particularly high scores.

"It is difficult to pinpoint the underlying reasons for Finland's extraordinary success to a single cause, it is more likely to be a combination of factors," said Pirjo Linnakyla, professor at the educational research institute at Jyvaskyla University.

However, she sees the role of the teacher as crucial. "The teaching profession is very respected, with the best graduates routinely opting for a career in it," Professor Linnakyla said. She added that it is important to approach reading and literature from the student's angle, making the subjects an integral part of everyday life rather than treating them in isolation.

"The Finnish education system is designed to give everyone the same learning opportunities, irrespective of their socio-economic background or where they live," Jari Rajanen, of the education ministry, said.

Consequently, differences in individual schools' performances were very small in Finland.

Finnish children are encouraged to read from an early age, not only to get information but also for pleasure. Even under-12s regularly read a quality newspaper, and schools hold a dedicated newspaper week every year during which students find out how a newspaper is put together and what is involved in newsgathering, writing and editing.

Pupils are highly motivated to read and discuss books - there are even two literary magazines aimed at children.

The results in the Pisa report show that those students who read for pleasure tend to read a more varied range of materials overall.

In Finland, libraries have always been seen as the key to giving everyone the opportuntity to enjoy reading, but parents' attitudes are equally significant.

Education specialists believe that the high attainment of Finnish women is decisive in encouraging girls who see their mothers as positive role models.

"Why boys do not perform as well as girls at this age may have something to do with the psychological development process as well as different cultural preferences," Mr Rajanen said.

Analysis, 18

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