A quarter of teenagers in the Netherlands have a language deficiency. Important reasons include too little reading, a focus on ‘technical reading’ at school and low literacy among parents, experts tell NU.nl. And with these causes come solutions.
From an early age, children must be read to by their parents in order to attend school. “If this doesn’t happen, they can already fall behind when they are only two years old,” says Willem-Jan Heijkoop from the Reading and Writing Foundation.
Parents should also explain to their children what is happening in the world around them. Nicole Swart from the Dutch Expertise Center says this allows a child to develop knowledge and a wide vocabulary. “It is important to ultimately understand books and texts”.
“What a child receives from home largely determines how well a child can read later. So a well-prepared child has a head start in learning to read,” says Paul Kirschner, emeritus professor of educational psychology at the Open University and visiting professor at the University of Groningen Thomas More University of Applied Sciences in Belgium.
When children are able to read on their own, parents can play a role in increasing their enjoyment of reading. Children mirror what their parents do. If parents themselves read a lot, children will want to too. They then experience more pleasure in it, and their reading level increases. This is the result of research from the University of Ghent and research from the Dutch Expertise Center.
The reading comprehension gap is only getting bigger
Education and other institutions can also contribute to a child’s learning to read better. “From the consulting agency to the primary school: They must recognize the signs of a reading delay,” says Heijkoop. “Then they can help children and parents narrow the so-called ‘literacy gap’.”
“But that gap is only getting bigger because of the cost crisis. Parents have less money for children’s books,” says Kirschner. In addition, the government has cut back on education, which has resulted in the closure of many school libraries. “It deprives a child of the opportunity to read certain books.”
The focus is too much on technical reading
The international tests that measure reading skills among Dutch youth focus on ‘reading comprehension’. According to Kirschner and Swart, Dutch language teaching mainly focuses on ‘technical reading’, such as recognizing signal words. As a result, Dutch children score low on reading comprehension.
To understand a text, a lot of knowledge and vocabulary is needed. “If you can extract the signal words from a text, it does not mean that you understand what the text is about,” explains Kirschner.
Reading is less fun if you can’t keep up with the story, and that makes children read even less. “Dutch students are therefore among the least motivated to read,” says Swart. Heijkoop is concerned and calls it a “vicious circle”, because if children read less, they become even worse at it.
“Dutch students are among the least motivated to read.”
Teacher shortages and too much work pressure also play a role in education. “As a result, there is sometimes no time to see where students’ additional reading needs lie,” says Swart.
One out of nine parents is illiterate
Low literacy among parents is also a major cause of reading delays in children. In the Netherlands, 2.5 million people aged sixteen and older have difficulty reading, writing and/or arithmetic, according to research by the Reading and Writing Foundation.
Children of poorly literate parents are much more likely to start school with a language delay. Yet one in nine parents with children aged 0 to 4 have low literacy and 25 percent of teenagers have a language delay.
People with Dutch as a second language have a higher chance of being illiterate. But research shows that the majority of low-literate people are simply people with Dutch as their mother tongue.
One reason for low literacy among the elderly is that people used to have primarily practical occupations. Reading and writing were less necessary then. Today, you must be able to read and write for almost all subjects.