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News, 4/4/2006

Read the paper and learn

In a world where different kinds of gadgets are used more and more to help people learn, a Finnish study shows that reading good old newspapers is a secret to successful learning.

Young Finns consistently top the charts in OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. The PISA survey measures the extent to which students near the end of compulsory schooling have acquired some of the knowledge and skills identified as essential for full participation in society.

In the 2003 PISA study, Finland swept an overwhelming victory in reading literacy, and a slightly more meager one in natural sciences. Finland was also the best Western country in mathematics, sharing the overall third place with the Netherlands right after Japan and Korea. Finnish problem solving skills were also among the best in the study, and most encouragingly, Finland had the smallest percentage of students on the lowest level of problem solving skills, only 5 percent.

Finland is also in the top three regarding newspaper reading activity of young people, right after Iceland and Norway. Statistics show that young people in the U.S. read considerably less newspapers than in Finland and, perhaps consequently, perform below average compared to most OECD countries in mathematics, natural sciences and problem solving. United States students' scores in reading literacy are merely on the average level.

Finland's secret in surveys: newspapers

A Finnish PISA follow-up study now indicates that avid reading of newspapers is in fact one of the explanatory factors to the excellent results of young Finns in the PISA surveys. Students who read newspapers several times a week achieved the highest learning results in all the measured areas.

The reason for these results is simple. “Besides literacy, reading newspapers advances the development of skills that are crucial to obtaining other abilities and knowledge,” says professor Pirjo Linnakylä from the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä.

Regular reading of newspapers thus promotes skills in mathematics, natural sciences and problem solving, because all of these require the ability to comprehend drawings, charts and pictures alongside texts. In addition to learning, newspaper reading also supports stronger engagement with society and local social networks, which is why the use of newspapers is beneficial in the education of young people, adults and immigrants, who are in danger of becoming marginalized.

“Students who don’t read newspapers or only do so rarely are in danger of becoming socially excluded, as the standard of their learning remains low and they usually don’t want to continue their education further,” Linnakylä says.

How to help your children learn

The study of course doesn’t tell the whole truth, as Linnakylä reminds that those who generally do well in school are also the ones who read newspapers regularly. There is also a clear connection between newspaper reading activity and the esteem the students place on schooling.

Parental socio-economic status doesn’t seem to give any indication about a student’s newspaper reading activity, whereas cultural background – whether books and art can be found in the home – as well as standard of education, do matter.

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Updated 4/5/2006

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