The University of Hong Kong Faculty of Education has released the “Progress in International Reading Literacy Study” (PIRLS) results. Hong Kong students achieved the top three ranking in the world for four consecutive PIRLS cycles, representing the highest level internationally. With a score of 573, Hong Kong students surpassed the international average score of 500.
PIRLS, organized by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, is conducted every five years to assess, compare, and track the reading abilities of fourth-grade students using their mother tongue across participating countries and regions. In this cycle, 57 countries and regions participated, involving approximately 320,000 students and their parents, teachers, and principals. The Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong conducted the research in Hong Kong.
During the COVID-19 pandemic 2021, Hong Kong primary four students participated in the study and achieved a 573 (above the international average of 500), securing the 2nd position globally. Hong Kong has consistently ranked among the top three internationally in the past four cycles, with a previous first-place ranking in 2011.
Regarding genre-specific reading abilities, Hong Kong primary four students scored 582 in informational text reading and 564 in literary text reading, higher than in 2016. Regarding different proficiency levels, Hong Kong fourth-grade students scored 572 in advanced reading abilities (evaluation and integration) and 577 in basic reading abilities (locating information and making straightforward inferences), both showing improvement compared to 2016.
Female students in Hong Kong performed better in reading, with a score of 577, compared to male students’ 569. Female students excelled more in informational text reading than literary text reading.
Ninety-two percent of Hong Kong primary four students achieved at least the intermediate international benchmark in reading proficiency, and 21 percent reached the highest benchmark level known as “top performers” or above, making Hong Kong the region with the fewest low-performing students in this study.
The research found that reading habits and interests contribute to reading confidence. The more frequent and enjoyable the reading experiences, the higher the confidence and better the reading performance.
Thirty-two percent of Hong Kong students expressed confidence in their reading abilities, achieving an average score of 605. Those with some confidence accounted for 39 percent, with an average score of 573, while 29 percent of students lacked confidence, scoring an average of 539.
Regarding reading interests, 30 percent of Hong Kong primary four students showed a strong interest in reading, with an average score of 590. Forty-seven percent had moderate interest, scoring an average of 573, while the remaining 23 percent had weak interest, resulting in the lowest average score of 550.
PIRLS also investigated students’ reading habits outside of school.
Even during the pandemic in 2021, 66 percent of students reported reading “once or twice a week” or “every day or almost every day” in a quiet setting at school, and these students achieved higher reading scores than others. 59.6 percent of students read outside of school for “30 minutes or more” daily, with an average score of 585 or higher. Students who read less than half an hour outside of school scored 554, showing a significant difference between the two groups.
The survey further revealed that the socioeconomic status of Hong Kong families had no significant impact on students’ reading performance compared to other countries or regions.
However, it was noted that only about 40 percent of Hong Kong students self-reported active engagement in reading classrooms, placing Hong Kong among the bottom two globally.
Furthermore, a spokesperson from the Education Bureau stated that, relative to other countries or regions, the socioeconomic status of Hong Kong primary four students’ families did not significantly influence their reading abilities.
This reflects the Hong Kong primary education system’s ability to provide students equal and high-quality educational opportunities.
Practical support from different stakeholders is crucial in enhancing students’ reading and language skills. The authorities expressed gratitude to schools, teachers, and all stakeholders for their efforts and contributions to providing quality education.