Tenth place achieved in reading evaluations

Wed, Dec 12, 2012, 00:00

Irish pupils have performed well in an international reading test but their performance is mixed in science and maths.

While results show Irish students performing above average, the Republic is not among the top performing countries in any of the three tests.

In reading, our ranking is 10th of 45 states, with only five countries performing significantly better. These were Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Russia and Northern Ireland.

In maths, our pupils came 17th of 50 countries. They were strong on numbers but performed less well on shapes, measures and reasoning.

Gender gap

In science, the Republic is ranked 22nd of 50 countries. There is no change in the State’s performance since the last such survey in 1995, despite introducing a science curriculum in 1999.

Overall, the results suggest primary schools are delivering better outcomes than the second-level system. In the most recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey on second level, the Republic was ranked only 17th on literacy and average and below average in maths and science.

The latest results for primary schools show a gender gap in reading where girls outperform boys. But this is less evident in maths and science.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tested primary school pupils in the equivalent of fourth class in reading, maths and science in more than 60 countries. Participating children on average were just over 10 years of age.

The report on Irish outcomes was completed by Emer Evans and Aidan Clerkin of the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin.

Poorer pupils

Northern Ireland is ranked as performing “significantly above” the Republic in reading and maths; likewise England in maths and science.

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn welcomed that Irish students were performing above average in all three tests and especially in reading. “However, we cannot be complacent. In all three tests, pupils in a number of countries are performing significantly above the performance of Irish students.”

The surveys provide the first opportunity – since 1991 and 1995 – to compare the performance of primary children in this State with their international counterparts on literacy and numeracy. For years, the Department of Education refused to participate in these international surveys, citing the excessive costs involved.

While the results in maths are broadly unchanged since 1995, a striking feature is the progress made in improving literacy among poorer pupils.

Only 3 per cent of Irish pupils failed to reach the low benchmark in reading, compared to 5 per cent globally.

Last year the department instructed schools to increase time spent on literacy by one hour a week and time allocated to maths by 70 minutes.