A recent study shows that Singaporean kids rank 4th when it comes to literature in comparison to the U.S. Read more about the study and find out how people are reacting to the results and whether they think it's good enough or not.
Kids in Singapore aren’t just good at math and science, it seems, but also at reading. According to the international study, PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), which measures literacy and reading ability in English across 49 countries, Singapore’s primary four students came in fourth place, beating countries like the United States and Ireland. So what does this say about us?
Education starts early
Actually, I don’t think it’s a surprising discovery to find out that Singaporeans rank so highly in studies conducted internationally. In our competitive and intensely ‘kiasu’ island-state, education is highly prioritized, right from birth. Using flashcards to teach babies how to recognize words and numbers has become a common practice here. Along with this, the expectations of educators has been on a rise. A friend of mine told me the other day how her sister was shocked when her child started kindergarten and received a complaint about how the child couldn’t perform multiplication and division yet.
Another factor certainly to be considered is that Singaporeans are prepared to spend on their children’s education. Not only are Singaporeans generous in buying their children books to read, they are also willing to fork out large amounts of money to send their children to enrichment lessons, extracurricular activities and so on. Even lower-income families will make sacrifices to ensure their children get the type of tuition they need.
What does literacy really mean?
The question to be asked, however, is whether being able to read means being learned in all senses of the word? Our children can read well, but do they have an appreciation for what they are reading or the ability to critically respond to what they are reading?
Despite our supposedly high levels of literacy, rates of students studying literature at the ‘O’-Level are sinking faster than an anchor in the ocean. The reason? Literature is a more difficult subject to score an A in compared to the other subjects like geography, history and social studies. Does this have to do with the fact that literature requires the most amount of critical response and evaluation as opposed to other subjects where you can be successful using techniques, such as memorizing by rote?
All this begs a troubling question: If our students find it easy to read, but difficult to evaluate and respond to what they’re reading, have we really succeeded?
Other ways to talk about learning
Our country’s achievement in PIRLS is certainly laudable, and so is our society’s devotion to education. However, simply being good in math, science and reading does not necessarily make for a successful adult. Parents still need to spend time talking to their children about the world they live in, helping them to ask questions, provoking healthy discussions and promoting ideals and aspirations. For one, I think participating in social and charity volunteerism can spark a brighter light in a child’s mind than enrichment classes could.
Why do you think Singaporean students rank 4th in literature when it comes to education? Do you think placing 4th is good enough?
For more on the importance of education and literature, watch this video: