Reading Skills in Germany: New Study Results Concern the Market

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The Börsenverein is raising the alarm again about falling reading-skill levels in Germany in the wake of new OECD ‘PISA’ test results.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Egoitz Bengoetxea Iguaran

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘We Need a Political and Social Rethink’
In another instance of concern about reading skills in the German market, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels—Germany’s publishers and booksellers association—is reporting a “significant” fall in reading skills, as evidenced in PISA surveys from spring 2022.

Publishing Perspectives readers will recall that in May, a regular analytical program called “IGLU,” the International Primary School Reading Study in Germany, reported an increase in the number of primary schoolchildren found unable to read to the required skill levels.

Now, as communicated by the Börsenverein, the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), created in 2000 and focused on 15-year-olds as its baseline sample, has found in Germany that its surveyed 15-year-olds are experiences drops in school performance, in math and natural sciences as well as in reading. Germany is not alone in seeing some deterioration of performance, but the difficulties detected by the testing there seems to be higher than in other nations, with an 8-percent increase in under-performing students since 2018 and a “very high” indicator of problems coming in at 30 percent.

What’s more, high performance is seen in fewer students, that group contacting to 9 percent from 2018’s 13 percent. Indeed in 2012, according to coverage in the Börsenblatt, it was even higher, at 17 percent, in 2012.

‘We Need Effective Reading Support’

As the Börsenverein’s media messaging is putting it in relation to Tuesday’s (December 5) presentation in Berlin, the newly announced assessment sees a quarter of Germany’s 15-year-olds with reading-skill deficits, those reading skills standing “at their lowest level since the survey began in 2000.”

Peter Kraus vom Cleff

Peter Kraus vom Cleff, the Börsenverein’s general manager, gets at the urgency being communicated by the testing regime, saying, “IGLU, PISA, how many more studies have to come and prove the dramatic deficits in our education system before we finally realize that we need a political and social rethink, and immediately?

“The federal and state governments must solve the problem together and invest in education. Under no circumstances should investments in education fall victim to the debt brake.”

Ironically, by comparison to the total pool of some 690,000 internationally tested in the PISA program in 2022, Germany’s students are at the OECD averages in math and reading, and above those averages in natural sciences. What worries policy makers, parents, and others, of course, are the dramatic drops in performance levels being detected in the German students’ performance.

“If you can’t read,” Kraus vom Cleff says, “you won’t be able to solve a math word problem or document a scientific experiment.”

The Börsenverein, together with its members–the publishers and booksellers of Germany, is affirming its commitment to improving reading skills in various initiatives and projects.

As part of the “National Reading Pact”—an initiative by the Börsenverein and  Reading Foundation with more than 180 partners from business, science, society and politics—the “National Reading Plan” is currently in the works, a model of systematic, nationwide language, reading, and promotion of literacy: Nationaler Lesepakt.

The organization is also supportive of the #NeustartBildungNow initiative, in calling for a national education summit.

Amid such understandable alarm, Germany’s book and publishing market is hardly alone in seeing potentially disturbing trends in educational performance and capabilities, and the international publishing community may need to begin collating and evaluating input from many markets to see what trends are behind such numbers.

In Germany, for example, boys are seen performing better than girls in math by 11 points, but girls are out-performing boys in reading by a dramatic 20 points.

“In order for people to have access to social and economic participation,” Kraus vom Cleff says, “we need effective reading support from an early age. Reading skills are not only fundamental to an individual’s life, but also to our entire democracy.”

More on the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels is here, more on education and publishing is here, more on literacy is here, and more on the German book publishing market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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