Is there a connection between PISA results, reading literacy and libraries?

In 2018 Kazakhstan came down to 69th place out of 77 countries in the international assessment of functional literacy called PISA conducted by the OECD

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Kazakhstan participates in PISA since 2009. Compared to 2009 our 15-year-old students’ reading results lowered from 390 to 387 scores which is considered non statistically significant. But compared to average OECD scores of 487, it equals to more than two-school-year difference.

When it comes to reading literacy, Kazakhstan is the 9th last out of 77 countries. What do these results tell us? They tell us about the fact that reading at the country level is decreasing. Education system does have some relation to it. I often speak and survey school teachers and principals in my work. When I read their survey results, I am shocked – if a teacher or principal of Almaty city school writes with errors – what can we say about overall reading literacy of young people or general public?

However, the issue is not only about education. OECD results show, that there is direct link between decreasing number of books at home and students’ literacy level. Reading culture goes away not only from the school culture, but a broader society - from family and parents’ habits. The culture of reading is not being born in school, it becomes a habit when a mother or father read to their child when he or she is one-year-old or younger. How much time does a regular Kazakhstani family spend on reading? I see a lot of parents with mobile phones, there are TVs, cartoons and video games on a lot at home. I am not talking about social media posts or short blogs, I mean reading classical literature, at least fiction or children’s fairy tales. For example, to encourage family reading time, 9-month old baby and his/her parents in Great Britain are provided books during outpatients’ clinic visit.

UNESCO results show that there is direct correlation between libraries and population’s reading literacy. Everyone in the country knows what conditions our public libraries are in. I often “work from home” sitting in the district library (there are children and adult libraries combined) and am sometimes there full day. Based on my experience, do you know how many people visit a library to read or take/return books? You will be shocked, but it is usually one or two people maximum. If you travel abroad and visit libraries there, you can do a comparison. Our libraries do not have anything to attract people. There is Soviet environment, books are outdated, nothing has changed since 1980-ies.

Libraries in developed countries are considered centers of districts called Community Centers, where interesting events take place for adults and kids - there is entertaining environment where books and journals are interesting to read, there are great e-library resources, public events, play time, there is light and open space. How about our libraries? There are dark rooms with dusty stacks of books. I can surely understand that there are some financial issues and our libraries are surviving. It then makes more sense to invest in local libraries and in their transformation, rather than to spend huge amounts of money on Expo exhibition or new curbs that are regularly replaced in Almaty city. So that the libraries attract general public, including us and our kids...

Aliya Bizhanova, Almaty Management University researcher, OECD consultant

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