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19th Jan 2020

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EU struggles with growing teen illiteracy

A growing proportion of teenagers in the EU have poor literacy skills, a fresh European Commission report has found.

In 2006, almost a quarter of 15-year olds (24.1 percent) qualified as "low performers in reading" - an increase of 21.3 percent when compared to data from 2000. Boys (30.4 percent) scored almost twice as badly as girls (17.6 percent).

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Romania and Bulgaria lie at the bottom of the chart, with over 50 percent of 15-year olds in both countries performing poorly in reading and understanding a written text.

The two countries are followed by Greece, with 27.7 percent performing poorly, Italy (26.4 percent) and Spain (25.7 percent).

At the top of the chart, in Finland (4.8 percent), Ireland (12.1) and Estonia (13.6), teenagers have the best reading ability in the EU.

"It is a real problem ... Literacy is a key competence for lifelong learning," EU education commissioner Jan Figel said, while presenting the data on education systems in the union on Thursday (10 July).

The commission examined how member states performed in five areas - including literacy, completion of secondary education, early school leavers, the participation of adults in lifelong learning and the number of graduates in math, science and technology.

Brussels urged national governments to improve their education scores, with commissioner Figel arguing that "education clearly helps in reaching the goal of employment".

As part of attempts to turn the EU into a knowledge-based economy, governments agreed that by 2010 at least 85 percent of 22-year olds should have completed upper secondary education.

In 2007, the EU average stood at slightly above 78 percent. Malta and Portugal performed the worst, while the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia came out best.

Malta and Portugal are also the black sheep when it comes to early school leavers, with the numbers three times the 2010 threshold of ten percent. Poland and Slovakia, on the other hand, had the lowest proportion of dropouts in 2007.

Higher education is the ticket to finding a better job, commissioner Figel stressed, noting that the employment rate among those with higher education is close to 84 percent, while it is only 49 percent among less well-educated Europeans.

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