Illiteracy rates still way too high in Europe

Mon 08 Aug 2011 03:02:00 PM EEST

One in five 15 year olds and many adults in Europe cannot read properly. A new study published by the European Commission shows what countries are doing to improve reading literacy - and where they are falling short.

The study, which covers 31 countries (EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey), reveals that while most have made progress in developing literacy policies, they often lack focus on the groups most at risk, such as boys, children from disadvantaged households and migrant children.

EU Education Ministers have set a target to reduce the share of poor readers from 20% to less than 15% by 2020. Only Belgium (Flemish Community), Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Poland have already achieved this target.

Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said: "It is a totally unacceptable that so many young people still lack basic reading and writing skills in Europe. This puts them at risk of social exclusion, makes it harder for them to find a job and reduces their quality of life. We've seen some progress in the past decade, but not enough. Literacy is the basis of all learning - that is why I recently launched a literacy campaign aimed at all ages and especially those from deprived backgrounds such as Roma children."

The study, produced for the Commission by the Eurydice network, focuses on four key topics: teaching approaches, tackling reading difficulties, teacher education and the promotion of reading outside school. It examines each in the light of academic research, the latest results from international surveys and an in-depth review of national policies, programmes and best practices. It reveals that only eight countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom) provide reading specialists at schools to support teachers and pupils.

The Eurydice report is an important input to the work of the High Level Group of experts in the field of literacy, set up by Commissioner Vassiliou in January and chaired by Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands. The group is examining how to support literacy at all ages and which policy initiatives and programmes have been successful. The group will make policy proposals by mid-2012.

Full text and key messages