High levels of home access to books as well as the internet have helped Ireland’s 10-year-olds to become close to the world’s best readers.
In a worldwide research study published this month, Irish fourth-class pupils were ranked 10th out of 45 countries at reading — well above average but also short of the top performing countries.
Further details now show a direct link between resources at home and reading scores. Children with higher achievement in the tests, taken by 4,500 pupils here last year, generally had parents who liked reading and engaged in literacy activities with their sons and daughters.
The researchers asked children and their parents questions about home supports, and the results showed above-average scores for Irish homes compared with those in other countries. For example:
* 78% of parents said there were more than 25 books for children at home. The international average was 59%;
* Nearly three quarters of pupils had their own room for study and a home internet connection, compared with just over half of children across all countries;
* 33% of children here said there were at least 100 books at home. The average internationally was 29%.
There are also clear links between reading skills and having at least one parent with a university degree or a professional job, although Ireland was much closer to other countries under those headings.
The 27% of Irish pupils who have the benefit of all these factors was higher than the proportion in all but eight of the 45 countries tested.
And the average reading score of 601 for those children was almost 60 higher than those who had just some of them, a very significant ability difference.
The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2011 report showed that half of Irish parents often did early literacy activities with their children before they started school, another factor linked strongly to high reading scores.
However, the 37% of Irish children with no more than one year of pre-school education compared poorly with a 22% international average.
Only 7% had at least three years of pre-primary schooling, but the rate was 42% across all countries.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said the findings showed that all parents must be encouraged to make literacy and numeracy a priority at home, but also that supports for children suffering education disadvantage must continue to be supported.
“It is clear that Irish parents value literacy highly and support the work their children do in school. The State needs to ensure continued support for the DEIS programme, which is delivering results in primary schools,” said INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan.
She said it was heartening that Irish pupils scored well in reading despite increased poverty levels, high numbers of children whose home language was not English, and large class sizes.
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