To scientifically assess Macao students’ reading competency, study and formulate policies and measures to improve their reading ability, the Education and Youth Development Bureau (DSEDJ) invited over 5,000 Primary Four students from 58 schools in Macao to participate in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2021 organized by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The PIRLS 2021 International Report, released on May 16, 2023, released on May 16, 2023, showed that Macao Primary Four students achieve reading performance similar to that in 2016 and their reading ability has been developing steadily.
Macao students performed steadily while the pandemic was affecting students globally
PIRLS is conducted every five years. After its first participation in 2016, Macao took part in PIRLS again in 2021. With the active cooperation of different stakeholders, Macao has overcome the challenges of the pandemic and completed the test as schedule. However due to the pandemic, nearly 40% of the participating countries or regions had to make drastic changes to the testing plan. Some postpone the schedule for half a year and let Primary Five students participate in the study, while some postpone for one year and let a new batch of Primary Four students take part in the study. This made the age gap of participating students bigger and caused a long postponement of the test, which in turn affected the comparability of data as a whole. And because of that, IEA reminds all participating countries and regions to be cautious when analyzing data, since it is not appropriate to compare the teaching effectiveness of different countries or regions based on their scores and rankings. The pandemic has also caused an adverse impact on the reading learning effectiveness of students worldwide. Among the 32 countries or regions that participated in the study for two consecutive times, nearly 70% showed a decline in score. Macao students got an average score of 536 in PIRLS 2021, which is more or less the same as the 546 score in 2016, but this score was higher than the PIRLS scale centerpoint of 500 points, making Macao ranked 9th to 15th in PIRLS 2021. Macao students performed better than the international medians at each of the four International Benchmarks this time, which indicated that Macao students’ reading performance is similar to that in PIRLS 2016 and their reading ability has been developing steadily.
Educational equity ranks top with multiple facilitative reading resources
The study showed that, among all participating countries or regions, socioeconomic status had the least influence on the reading achievement of Macao students, even the students with lower socioeconomic status in Macao were still able to perform better than the international average. It is worth mentioning that according to the study result of PISA 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment 2018), another authoritative international study on the learning performance of 15-year-old secondary students, Macao was also recognized as one of the leading economies worldwide in terms of educational equity. The results of the two studies have consistently confirmed that the education system in Macao has provided students with equal opportunities of quality education throughout primary and secondary educational stages.
Through a set of questionnaires for school principals, teachers, parents and students, it was found that the hardware and software facilities in Macao schools have the following advantages in promoting students’ reading efficiency:
1. The campus environment of Macao schools is generally safe and orderly
- In terms of student discipline, only more than 60% of principals worldwide think that there is no problem with their students’ discipline, while nearly 80% of principals in Macao believe that students can observe discipline and teaching is not affected by students’ discipline at all.
- In terms of school campus environment, more than 70% of teachers worldwide believe that the school campus environment is safe, while nearly 90% of teachers in Macao believe that the school is located in a safe community, teachers feel safe on campus, and students can focus on learning.
2. Rich teaching resources for reading
- In terms of the number of collections in school libraries, only about 50% of school libraries worldwide have collections of more than 2,000 volumes, while almost all schools in Macao have libraries, and 90% of the schools have collections of more than 2,000 volumes.
- Regarding the establishment of book corners, only 30% of classroom book corners worldwide have more than 50 books and 3 different types of magazines, while almost all Primary Four classrooms in Macao have book corners, and about 70% of the classroom book corners have more than 50 books and 3 different types of magazines.
3. The number of computers for teaching purpose at school ranks among the top in the world
- In terms of the number of teaching computers at schools, the average number of computers (including tablet computers) available to students in the fourth grade worldwide is 45, while the average number of that in Macao is 136, and nearly 90% of schools in Macao provide students with e-learning resources.
4. Teachers actively participate in reading-related professional development trainings
- In terms of teacher training, only 60% of teachers worldwide have participated in trainings on “teaching reading comprehension skills or strategies”, nearly 55% of teachers worldwide have participated in trainings on “focusing on the diversity of teaching according to students’ needs and interests” and less than 50% have participated in trainings on “assessing students’ reading performance”, while the percentage of Macao teachers who have participated in the above trainings account for nearly 90%, 85% and 75%. This shows that Macao teachers actively participate in professional trainings.
Home-school cooperation to create reading atmosphere and strengthen students’ interest and confidence in reading
The study showed that there is room for improvement in term of the level of reading interests and reading habits of Macao parents and their participation in pre-school family reading activities. Reading interests and confidence of Macao students also needs strengthening. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen home-school cooperation, promote different stakeholders to co-build a suitable reading atmosphere to cultivate students’ interests, confidence and enjoyment towards reading.
The SAR government has long attached great importance to cultivating students’ reading ability and is committed to realizing “reading for all”. The DSEDJ continues to make use of the research results of various international tests to review existing curriculum policies and learning and teaching measures, and to study the factors that affect students’ reading ability. In recent years, the following measures have been launched to improve students’ reading ability:
- Establish the “Student Fun Reading Award Scheme” and the “Fun Reading School Commendation Scheme” to encourage schools to create a suitable reading atmosphere that help students develop good reading habits.
- Strengthen parenting education. Regularly hold reading-themed parent lectures, parent-child book fairs, book exchanges, Library Week activities, school reading workshops, parent-child reading activities, children reading clubs, etc. at parenting education centers, schools and the community that allow parents to master the skills of teaching their children to read, cultivate the joy of reading at home, and promote parent-child reading atmosphere.
- Keep on organizing professional trainings for teachers to let them understand the latest development in reading education, and enhance teacher’s professional knowledge in improving students’ reading interest, teaching reading strategies and higher-order thinking, and mastering the use of digital devices.
In addition, the DSEDJ has also further carried out cross-departmental cooperation to promote reading, including cooperating with the Cultural Affairs Bureau to launch a series of Macao Library Week activities, and continue to carry out reading reward programs to cultivate children and youngster’s reading interest. Macao Science Center has also joined hands with the Faculty of Education of the University of Macao to establish a new parent-child reading area “Science Picture Book Library”, providing rich resources for parent-child science reading.
With reference to the preliminary results of PIRLS 2021 international report, as well as the international database to be published later by the IEA, the DSEDJ will compile Macao’s Final Report and the School Reports, and will hold sharing sessions on the reports and study results with schools to let the education sector have a deeper understanding of Macao’s study results and have discussions on how to improve students’ reading ability.
The DSEDJ is grateful to the schools, teachers, parents and students for their participation in the PIRLS 2021 study. It is hoped that all walks of life will continue to work together to raise students’ comprehensive competencies and to nurture talents for Macao’s future.