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“For 1 in 5 young Europeans, the world is hard to read” – Report of the EU High Level Group on Literacy

On 6th September 2012 – on the eve of International Literacy Day (1) – at the Cyprus EU Presidency Conference on Literacy in Nicosia, the High-level group of experts on literacy, chaired by H.R.H. Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands and composed of nine further European experts (HLG), presented its final report to the EU Education Ministers . It focuses on reading and writing literacy, summarising existing research, and has two main aims: a) to raise awareness on the literacy crisis in Europe and b) recommend ways to solve it. It is intended for heads of state; governments; parents and teacher; businesses; citizens.

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The HLG had been established by Commissioner Vassiliou on 1 February 2011 on invitation by the Council (2), to review literacy for the first time on EU level. The group’s mandate was to look how literacy has evolved, assess succesful programs and to identify ways to improve reading literacy, taking into account modern technologies (e.g. Web 2.0’ and smartphones).

The report presents literacy on three levels baseline, functional and multiple, baseline literacy meaning knowledge of letters, words and texts; functional literacy – the ability to read and write to develop and function; multiple literacy – the ability to produce, understand, interpret and critically evaluate texts. Good literacy skills are essential for improving people’s lives, and for promoting knowledge, innovation and growth, ever more so in the digital world. The EU “literacy” target is less than 15% low-achieving 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science by 2020 (3).

On 22 January 2013, sponsored by Unesco’s Brussels office and MEP Marietje Schaake, HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands presents the report to the public in the European Parliament’s Library.

Raising awareness

The report points out the literacy crisis in Europe. It shows that one in five 15 year olds, as well as nearly 75 million adults, lack basic reading and writing skills.

It dispels some widely-spread misconceptions about the literacy issue such as the believe that illiteracy is characteristic only of developing countries, or that school is solely responsible for teaching children to read and write.

Recommendations

The report provides 3 recommendations for actions:

  1. Create a more literate environment (e.g. support for parents on making reading pleasurable for their children)
  2. Raise the level of literacy teaching and provide more reading support (by supporting teachers to deliver high quality teaching,
  3. Increase participation and inclusion (identifying three gaps: socio-economic, digital and gender)

The report also identifies the issue of literacy for all ages, i.e. suggesting different approaches for different age groups.

These recommendations are intended to help Member States make coherent, efficient, successful and up-to-date policies.

Follow-up

Since education and literacy policy is a national prerogative, further action to achieve literacy for all is mostly up to the Member states (4). Supporting initiatives at the EU level include:

  • Encouraging partnerships and projects under the Comenius (school education) and Grundtvig (adult education) sub-programmes of the Lifelong Learning Programme with a focus on literacy. In 2013 the Workshop action of the Grundtvig Programme shall provide training to Adult Educator working on literacy issues exclusively.
  • In September 2012 the Commission launched a new section of its website dedicated to literacy issues, with further information on activity at the EU level and within the Member States, selected literacy projects, programmes and initiatives aimed at increasing literacy.

The Report also fed into the November 2012 Council conclusions on literacy (5).

The EP closely follows developments in literacy issues and Commission’s initiatives, as expressed e.g. in the following parliamentary questions:

  • Literacy in Europe E-008531/2012 Filiz Hakaeva Hyusmenova (ALDE) 26.09.2012;
  • EU activity on literacy E-009979/2011 Proinsias De Rossa (S&D) 7.11.2011;
  • Fall in reading standards in all Member Sates E-010293-12 Angelika Werthmann (ALDE) 12.11.2012 (answer pending).

Further information

Executive summary of the report in 22 languages

Closing Speech of Commissioner Vassiliou at the launch of the HLG report, 6 September 2012, Filoxenia Conference Centre, Nicosia

European Commission press release on the HLG report launch

Frequently Asked Questions on the European Commission’s literacy policy and report by the High-Level Group of Experts on Literacy

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(1) Established by UNESCO on 8 September in 1966

(2) See Council conclusions 2010/C 323/04

(3) See Council conclusions 2009/C 119/02 of 12 May 2009 Annex I

(4) Examples of literacy initiatives in European countries

(5) Council conclusions 2012/C 393/01 of 26 November 2012

Discussion

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