Success in the education of the next generation depends on increasing the amount of time spent and the scope of their reading, the National Science Council (NSC) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday.
The officials made the remarks following the publication of this year's Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) by the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement in the US on Wednesday, which ranked Taiwan 22nd out of 45 countries.
National Central University Professor Ko Hwa-wei (柯華葳) said the study measured 4th grade literacy because that is the age when children possess established reading skills and habits.
"The study also showed that Taiwanese students are better at reading information than they are at interpretation," Ko said.
The top five in this year's survey were Russia, Hong Kong, Canada (Alberta), Singapore and Canada (British Columbia).
Taiwan ranked higher than France, Norway and New Zealand.
"The PIRLS data is a good reference point for us to start thinking about the direction our literacy education should take," said Lin Chen-yung (林陳涌), section-chief at the NSC's Department of Science Education
"Literacy is the cornerstone of all areas of learning," director of the MOE's Department of Elementary Education Pan Wen-chung (
While PIRLS has its biases, the message from the survey is that instead of aiming for every child to understand Confucius and Shakespeare, we should focus on more basic things, Lin said.
Lin cited Hong Kong as an example and said that since it first participated in 2001, its PIRLS performance had seen significant improvement, possibly because of education reforms it had launched to focus on interdisciplinary teaching and to replace some traditional literature on the syllabus with literature on current events and developments.
The officials said though that does not mean Taiwan needs to follow the same educational system as other countries in the survey.
"The current teaching emphasis in Taiwan differs from that of PIRLS and could contribute to Taiwan's seemingly mediocre performance," Lin said.
Instead of blindly copying other countries, "we should take the strategies we find suitable and try to strike a balance between traditional teaching and international trends," he said.
Ko said that "families are where students first encounter reading" and that parents should be proactive in instilling in children good reading habits "before they learn about it in school."
"Statistically, the more books a family owns and the more parents actively encourage reading, the higher a child's literacy level," she said.
Some of the other findings related to improved literacy performance also warranted attention, such as the amount of time spent reading independently, the number of books students are able to choose from and the time spent discussing reading content with peers, she said.
Lin suggested parents should reduce the time they spend watching television with their children and spend that time reading with them instead.