Guest commentary: Better reading skills for pupils will take huge effort



Marius Bâgu, CNE.news

Book Café in Soweto, South Africa. Photo AFP, Emmanuel Croset

No modern society can do without reading, maths and science. But schools do not do well in these subjects. That is what we know from recent international research. What can we do about this? Our guest commentator Marius Bâgu tells about that on International Children's Book Day.

I vividly remember the moment I realised that teaching is what I should do with my life. It was during my third year at college. One of my teachers had inspired me, as it had happened for many others.

His teaching style was friendly and slightly laissez-faire, a style that I have come to practice myself. At the same time, he was curriculum-focused and had high expectations from his students. As I have learned from him, although students may not be the best, I should appreciate them if they strive to do their best.

I have always enjoyed watching my students put their best effort into learning and achieve the highest grades possible. Nothing brings me more pleasure as a teacher than seeing my students excel in education.

Reading starts with enthusiasm. Photo AFP, Jane Barlow

Because of my love for teaching, my country’s PISA results make me sad. PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests measure 15-year-olds reading, mathematics, and science skills to meet real-life challenges. In 2022, 81 countries have participated, including Romania, my country.

It is impossible to compare the educational systems of different countries, and then conclude which ones are the best. There are many angles, facets, and points of contention. However, comparing each country’s PISA results might provide valuable insight.

Moreover, my country can see if its educational system is better off (or worse) than before, or if it does better or worse than others.

Unfortunately, my country’s results are not good. It is a shame that the entire Ministry of Education apparatus claimed the results were still good overall because they are not much worse than in 2018.

Starting at a young age. Photo AFP, Yasuyoshi Chiba

First, as the PISA results show, Romania has had the worst results among EU countries. While Estonia, Ireland, and Switzerland were among the top-performing countries, Serbia, Greece, and Romania were at the bottom of the EU member states.

Second, only 51 per cent of the students attained at least Level 2 in mathematics. This is significantly less than the average 69 per cent in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). For a comprehensive understanding, it is essential to note that there are seven levels: 1b, 1a, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

The OECD is an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1961 in Paris, France, to stimulate economic progress and world trade. Currently, the OECD has 38 member countries, 22 of which are in the EU. The OECD did the PISA research.

Third, 56 per cent of the students attained Level 2 or higher in science, considerably less than the average of 76 per cent.

Finally, the most crucial aspect for me as a teacher is that 58 per cent of the Romanian students got Level 2 or higher in reading skills. That is significantly less than the average of 74 per cent.

Other European countries (like Slovenia, Germany, and Belgium) have also suffered to a greater or lesser extent. The underlying problem is incomprehensible at first sight. For me, the conclusion is clear: something is clearly lacking in these modern and advanced educational systems.

This begs the question: What is lacking? The answer is simple, although it may be hard to believe.

Photo EPA, Monirul Alam

School in many European countries, including Romania, has come to be seen as fun rather than a place where students learn hard. It is always about making the class amusing and attractive to the students rather than focusing on learning.

Furthermore, words like discipline, work and rigour are seen as negative rather than positive. This is a problem not only in Romania but throughout Europe.

Unsurprisingly, countries like Singapore, Macao (China), and Taiwan will continue to thrive while European countries will succumb deeper and deeper.

I can attest that, at least in Romania, there is an imbalance between rights and duties regarding students. This imbalance is to such a degree that principals and teachers cannot deal with misbehaving students. Currently, in Romania, students cannot even be suspended for a few days if they disrupt the classroom. This is ludicrous.

I have filed numerous complaints against students disrupting the classroom. But the situation has not improved. However, there were cases when parents were informed about their misbehaving children and took notice. In those cases, the climate in the classroom improved.

Not all schools in Romania deal with this issue to such a degree. There are schools where disruptive behaviour is rare. These are usually schools with students from good families, where parents understand their duties and do their best to instil discipline in their children.

The PISA results will only improve if the Ministry of Education raises the achievement bar and ensures peace in every school. Recently, more stories have come out about students misbehaving in the classroom, some of them even being violent.

Deciding with which one to start. Photo AFP, Sajjad Hussain

As a radical Protestant, I cannot but reject all this. The apostle Paul made it clear in Romans 13 that higher-up authorities must impart justice, as they are servants of God on earth. On the one hand, God has entrusted them to punish evildoers and, on the other hand, to reward those who do good.

Students find the best environment to achieve their highest performance in a classroom with peace and goodwill. Teachers treat students there with kindness, and come prepared to teach as best they can. Students also treat teachers with respect for their work and are eager to learn.

Romania is doing worse than other European countries, and the global differences are staggering. These results show that modern educational systems in Europe have structural issues that need fixing. From my investigations, what is happening in Romania is also happening in other European educational systems.

Helping to read. Photo AFP, Jack Taylor

I think it’s okay if there is fun at school. But first and foremost, a school should be a place where students learn to work hard. The focus should be on learning and studying, no matter how boring, rather than entertainment. A school’s purpose should be to teach students to be good citizens.

Significant changes are necessary across Europe for better PISA results, especially in Slovenia, Germany, and Belgium. Otherwise, they will continue to suffer. This, in turn, will affect reading, mathematics, and science skills overall.

Ultimately, Europe, including Romania, is heading toward a collapse. The 2023 PISA results clearly showed that something is lacking in modern European educational systems. If things stay on course, the PISA results might stagnate for a while, but eventually, they will drop year after year.



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