Hong Kong primary students have ranked second among 43 countries and regions in a global reading literacy study, though parents in the city were found to have the lowest interest in reading in the world.

Primary school student Covid-19
Primary school students in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

Primary Four students in Hong Kong scored 573 points in the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), ranking second in the world after Singapore which had an average test score of 587, according to an assessment report released on Wednesday. The international average stood at 500.

The quinquennial study, last conducted in 2021, assessed, compared and tracked the reading achievements of Primary Four-level students globally. The score reflects students’ comprehension process, measured by their ability to interpret, integrate and evaluate reading materials, as well as their abilities in retrieval, and straightforward inferencing of, information.

The latest test, which involved around 320,000 students, their parents, teachers and principals, marked the fourth consecutive cycle in which Hong Kong reached the top three in the worldwide ranking.

‘Strong reading resilience’

According to the study, students, parents and educators in Hong Kong showed “strong reading resilience” and were among the few regions in the world that had not suffered setbacks in reading literary due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2021 study found that girls in Hong Kong outperformed boys, and students attained better results in reading informational text than literary text, a team of researchers led by Dr Lam Wai-ip, principal investigator of the local section of the 2021 PIRLS, and an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong told the press on Wednesday.

Public library books
Public library in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

The latest report showed that Hong Kong had the least number of low-performing students compared to other participating countries and regions. The reading achievement of students was most directly linked to their confidence in reading, while pupils who felt a sense of belonging in school would read more frequently on campus.

The reading interests, attitudes and habits of parents were also found to be influential towards children’s reading performance. Parents in Hong Kong were placed last in the world in terms of their interest in reading, with only around 14 per cent of respondents saying they liked reading “very much.” The international average stands at 31 per cent.

There would be more books at home when parents enjoyed reading, and they would – in turn – engage in more reading activities with their children, the study found.

Hong Kong parents were advised to read more, as their interest in reading could affect their children’s reading attitudes and achievement, the researchers said.

“Parents must lead by example, and encourage their children to read, and also read themselves,” the report read.

primary student Covid-19 face mask
Primary school students in Hong Kong. Photo: Supplied.

The Education Bureau on Wednesday said it was pleased to learn that local students “performed remarkedly well” in the reading literary study. It was “by no means easy” for the global assessment to be conducted in the city smoothly, as face-to-face classes were suspended intermittently owing to Covid-19, the government said.

With the help of the government, local schools were able to support students in reading and learning at home under the idea of “suspending classes without suspending learning,” the bureau said.

“This contributed to Hong Kong students’ excellent reading attainment,” a spokesperson for the bureau said.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.