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Study finds elementary school students' reading comprehension falling

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Students take part in a class at an elementary school in Seoul. Korea Times file
Students take part in a class at an elementary school in Seoul. Korea Times file

By Bahk Eun-ji

It is not easy for Lee Joo-sang, whose daughter is attending elementary school, to evaluate his daughter's workbook.

There were more questions that were left unanswered than the ones his daughter actually answered.

"She had the right answers for some questions, but others were left unanswered, although they are basically the same type of questions. I asked why she couldn't solve some questions that I think are similar to the ones she answered correctly, and my daughter said that she just couldn't understand what those questions were asking," Lee said.

"The problem seems to be a matter of her understanding the context of those questions and has little to do with her math skills."

Recently, many parents have become concerned about their children's literary comprehension abilities.

Most elementary school students have been adversely impacted by disruptions to their learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Hee-jung, 41, another parent living in Dongjak District in Seoul, recently received a phone call from her elementary school-level son's math instructor at a private academy.

The teacher said that Kim's son took a test and did not solve most of the problems because he couldn't understand some of the words in the questions.

The teacher reassured Kim, explaining that children's levels of literary comprehension have generally declined due to the pandemic, and that Kim's son is one of those students.

"The teacher then said that she teaches math and solves problems in class with the kids, but that she often can't tell if it's math class or Korean class," Kim said.

Kim was recommended by other mothers around her to have her son study Chinese characters and reading comprehension.

She was told that it is good for kids to study Chinese characters and reading skills at the same time, saying that children often fail to solve math problems due to having poor reading skills.

During the pandemic, it has become harder for teachers to assess the level of childrens' reading abilities because they have not been able to attend in-person classes and can only participate in online lessons.

On top of that, it has become harder to get children to read text, as they now rely more on interacting with digital devices and viewing video content.

The gradual decline in children's reading abilities is supported by long-term data.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), released by the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) last December, the average academic achievement of Korean students fell 23.57 points to 515.72 in 2018, from 539.29 in 2009.

"The academic achievement level of the country has been on a downward spiral since the survey began in 2000, and Korean students have difficulty reading complicated texts," said a KICE researcher.

"Korean students are accustomed to meticulously analyzing and reading the passages contained in each unit in textbooks. This is different from reading to understand the purpose of given texts while selecting, analyzing and evaluating texts by themselves," he said.



Bahk Eun-ji ejb@koreatimes.co.kr


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