Two out of five Dutch young people do not read. A worrying proportion, note experts, who also see low literacy in the Netherlands rising rapidly – with potentially far-reaching consequences. The government and the book industry are diligently looking for ways to reverse the trend.By Robert Blokland
The latest hard figures come from 2018. Then an international survey was presented in which 77 countries participated. This showed that almost a quarter of Dutch teenagers could not read well enough to really understand texts.
In 2012, it was still almost one in five teenagers. The researchers also found that the reading performance of Dutch youngsters fell faster than in other countries.
Two new reports with current figures are not expected until the end of December 2022. However, the first results of a new study by the Norwegian Education Authority in June confirmed the picture that the trend has not yet turned: “Students’ reading performance at the end of the primary school period is partly still below the desired level. It also turns out that the students’ reading skills are slightly lower than ten years ago.”
“The effect of poor reading cannot be underestimated”
The consequences of little or no reading should not be underestimated, says Jan-Willem Heijkoop from Reading and Writing. Since 2014, this foundation has drawn attention to the increasing low literacy rate in the Netherlands.
More than 2.5 million Dutch adults cannot read and write well – one in six citizens. But there is a good chance that number will increase if reading among young people is not caught up quickly, warns Heijkoop.
“Anyone who can’t read well is out of step with this society on so many fronts,” he explains. “You are less able to handle a computer or smartphone. But it is also much more difficult, for example, to read vacancies or write an application letter. And think about reading mail from, for example, the general practitioner or the tax authorities. , or information leaflets for medicine. can get far-reaching consequences if you don’t understand something like that because you can’t read well.”
‘Make low literacy and unreading a topic for discussion’
It is very difficult to pinpoint one reason for high low literacy in the Netherlands, says Heijkoop. “For example, the aging population plays a role: as we get older, our language skills decline. But it’s also a big problem that when students leave school, the language deficit is not caught up. People are ashamed that they can’t read well and prefer not to ask for help.”
The Dutch Expertise Center, which presents one of the studies in December, agrees with the statement that it is of great importance that the topic is discussed. “There is a sense of urgency, both in education itself and in government,” says Nicole Swart.
The ministry also recently released money for the so-called ‘basic skills master plan’, which Education Minister Dennis Wiersma launched in May. “You can feel that the teachers are coming up with all sorts of initiatives to get the students to read. Everyone understands that things have to be different and better. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years before you see the effect of plans that are now. being implemented. launched.”
The book industry encourages young people to read games
The book industry is doing its utmost to get young people to read again with all sorts of new initiatives. Book dome CPNB recently launched short stories set in the world of the popular video game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The project, which included writer Ronald Giphart, was developed in collaboration with game producer Ubisoft.
“We hear from parents that children primarily associate reading with school,” explains CPNB Director Eveline Aendekerk. “Reading is therefore seen less and less as a leisure activity. Also, there is a lot of competition from other things that children can do. Gaming is at the top of this.”
The initiative had an effect: almost half of the young players later indicated that they would like to read more. CPNB is launching a partnership with the digital platform in two weeks Minecraft about the children’s book series The crazy tree house.
“We have seen in recent years that ‘our’ apparent enemies like social media and games can also help young people find their way back to the book,” notes Aendekerk with pride. “And if children enjoy picking up a book during their free time, it also benefits their school performance.”
‘Dare to bring up the subject with friends’
The Reading and Writing Foundation emphasizes that it is important to look beyond education alone. “It’s good to tackle the problem among young people,” says Heijkoop. “But it is even more difficult to reach low-literate adults. There is a taboo about it. This can only be broken if society recognizes signals across the board and dares to put a name to them.”
The foundation recommends that people discuss the topic with friends who may be illiterate. “Many people with low levels of knowledge think that they are the only ones with this problem, which is not the case. And there are many ways to improve one’s language skills in an accessible way. For example, most municipalities and libraries have contact with volunteers. understand homework gives reading.”