Finnish children still among the best in reading (5th December 2017)

Finnish fourth-graders came fifth in the international PIRLS assessment (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) among the 50 participating countries and regions. The best reading literacy levels were achieved in Russia and Singapore. The study shows that in Finland children’s reading literacy performance is explained now most strongly by the family’s socioeconomic background and parental activity with their children. Home-based attitudes to reading are strongly connected to children’s engagement in reading.

In Finland 18% of the pupils reached an excellent level in these tests. Finnish children performed better in tasks that involved informational texts and information searches than in tasks pertaining to literary texts and interpretation of information. In Finland, the reading literacy test scores showed no significant differences between schools or regions.

A corresponding assessment was conducted previously in 2011. The Finnish overall score and the ratio of pupils reaching a high or excellent level were still about the same as five years ago. In 2011 Finland came second in this ranking.

– While the Finnish results have remained the same, other countries have improved so that our ranking has decreased, says the National Coordinator Kaisa Leino from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä.

Family has great influence on children’s reading

In the PIRLS data, children’s reading literacy performance is explained most strongly by their home background and parents’ reading-related activities and attitudes.

– The explanatory factors show clearly the significance of home resources, such as number of books, and parental support and encouragement. Children who have received little support at home are outperformed by their better-supported peers, and it seems that kindergarten and school have managed to narrow down this gap only a little, states researcher Kari Nissinen from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research.

 A greater share of Finnish parents than before do not like reading. This makes Leino worried:

– Parents who like reading also read to their children and support the children’s language development, for instance by playing with alphabetic blocks, discussing about the text read together, and taking their children to the local library. These activities support reading literacy and create a basis for the children’s own skills and attitudes toward reading, Leino points out.

A child’s attitude and reading in free time have a considerable impact. Promotive factors for reading skills include, for example, that the children like reading, read on a daily basis and trust in their own reading skills. In Finland, more than a fourth of the students were keen readers. On the other hand, nearly a quarter reported that they liked it only little. Internationally, the Finnish students were among those least fond of reading. In contrast, their confidence in their own reading skills was the second highest of all participating countries.

– Many things are competing also for children’s free time. A recommendable habit would be, for instance, to calm down reading a book for a while in the evenings. This would bring many benefits both to the younger and older ones, Leino encourages.

In Finland, girls outperformed boys by 22 score points on average. This gender gap was slightly bigger than across all participating countries on average. However, gender explains only about 3% of the total variation of reading literacy scores. More significant factors here are the family’s and student’s activities and attitudes.

Commitment to reading literacy education is weak: only 39% of the Finnish students were highly committed to such education. The students considered it a problem, in particular, that the teacher does not offer such reading material that they would find interesting and that the teacher does not encourage students to tell their opinions about the text.

– In order that students would find interesting reading for themselves, there should be stronger cooperation with libraries, Leino suggests.

– Versatile reading skills open many worlds and provide a basis for all learning. New curricula emphasise the importance of multiliteracy, and the basis for this is built, for its part, in early childhood education already. In the national reading literacy forum, the best experts of the country are seeking solutions for reading-related challenges. Their guidelines will be published in next autumn at the beginning of the school year. The success story of our reading nation must not be disrupted, says the Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen.

The PIRLS study assessed fourth-grade students’ reading literacy skills. The test tasks consisted of printed texts only; no online competencies were tested in Finland. In Finland the reading literacy tests comprised 4896 students from 151 schools. In addition, data were gathered by means of student, teacher, school and parental questionnaires. In Finland, the study was carried out by the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Further information

Finnish Institute for Educational Research:

  • Senior Researcher Kaisa Leino, tel. 040 805 4810,
  • Senior Researcher Kari Nissinen, tel. 040 805 4268,

Ministry of Education and Culture:

  • Counsellor of Education Aija Rinkinen, tel. 029 533 0360,
  • Counsellor of Education Tommi Karjalainen, tel. 029 533 0140,

The report:

  • Kaisa Leino, Kari Nissinen, Eija Puhakka & Juhani Rautopuro. Lukutaito luodaan yhdessä. Kansainvälinen lasten lukutaitotutkimus PIRLS 2016. Koulutuksen tutkimuslaitos 2017. In Finnish.

The study report and a recording of the publication event are available on the PIRLS website. In Finnish.

IEA: PIRLS 2016 International Results in Reading

Finnish Institute for Educational Research: Evaluation of education team