Reading Ability of Children Far Lower than in Pre-COVID Times – Study

BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 09: Boy, who has been granted an exception to come in-person to school because of extenuating circumstances, writes in his note book at the GutsMuths elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic on February 9, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. Schools across Germany are currently closed for in-person …
Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The reading ability of fourth-graders in Germany has dramatically dropped since pre-pandemic times, a study has found.

A study by researchers from TU Dortmund has found that German children in the fourth grade of primary school are far less capable of reading than their predecessors who passed through the grade pre-pandemic.

It comes amid a warning from UNICEF that children worldwide have suffered “a nearly insurmountable” loss of learning as a result of school closures during the Chinese Coronavirus pandemic.

According to a press release from the researchers, the study involved the administration of a standard reading test to fourth graders in over one hundred German schools in 2021, the results of which were compared to samples taken in 2016.

The results of this comparison are reportedly stark, with the number of children capable of a reading level rated from good to very good falling seven per cent since 2016.

Meanwhile, the number of children who have problems with reading comprehension increased by six per cent, to over a quarter of all students who took the test in 2021.

“If you express it in years of learning, the children are missing an average of half a year of learning,” explained Dr. Ulrich Ludewig, who helped to lead the study. “If the change in the composition of the student body is taken into account, the gap while slightly smaller, the significant decline in mean reading ability remains.”

The researchers also warned that the results of the study likely mean that there has been a knock-on effect for the rest of the school system, with reading being an essential skill for most subjects.

This is not the first time education experts have sounded alarm bells regarding the effect pandemic school closures have had on children.

UNICEF has previously warned that the mass school closures across the world have led to a “nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling”, saying that children need “intensive support” to get back on track with their educational and social development.

“Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling,” UNICEF education chief Robert Jenkins said.

“Students need intensive support to recover lost education. Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition,” he continued.

This sentiment was echoed by curriculum and assessment group Amplify, who reportedly found that over one in three kids in America who started their schooling during the pandemic require “intensive” intervention to read at grade level.

The group claims that 37 per cent of kindergarteners are what they call “at-risk readers”, who they judge to have only a 20 per cent chance of being able to attain the reading level expected of them by the end of their school year.

“The simple fact is that school shutdowns are much more harmful to children than COVID-19 is, and by once again closing down schools, we’re blatantly ignoring this reality,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), urging US authorities to avoid further school closures back in January.

“Shame on anyone who is allowing their own fear or political agenda to let our kids fall further behind,” he continued.

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