Queen Rania Foundation

What does it mean to be reading literate?


The OECD has just released the results of their international assessment of what fifteen year olds around the world know, and can do. This set of results has a focus on reading literacy which they define as:

“Understanding, using, evaluating, reflecting on and engaging with texts in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential and to participate in society.” 

It’s valuable to reflect on this rather dense definition. Two things are immediately clear: reading fluency is a complex skill that involves more than being able to read and understand text, and that it can be demonstrated with different degrees of sophistication. For example, for students to achieve at the highest levels skills such as evaluating a piece of text for its trustworthiness, its relevance or its core arguments need to be demonstrated. 

Alongside that, the definition also allows for the insight that as the world changes, the reading skills that students need if they are to fully “participate in society” also alters. For example, the importance of being able to evaluate the trustworthiness of a piece of text becomes more important in an age of fake news and social media. And, of course, the definition of ‘text’ now needs to be wide enough to include infographics, websites, the summarised text that a Google search presents and the text navigation skills of hyperlinks.

Similarly, reading in order to learn acquires even more importance as adults need to refresh their skills to take advantage of the new job opportunities created by technology and science. This is why the word ‘engaging’ in the definition serves to convey the goal for students to acquire the on-going pleasure in reading that they can carry through life - and learning.

The OECD test accommodates all of this. How have Jordan’s fifteen year olds fared?

  • Out of almost 79 countries and economies, fifteen year olds in Jordan score 400 points in mathematics compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries. 429 points in science, compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries and 419 points in literacy compared to an average of 487 points in OECD countries. This means that Jordan is still behind to what equates to 2 grade levels in math, 1.5 grade levels in science and 1.7 grade levels in reading. 

  • Despite improvement, results in literacy are still worrying. 3 in every 4 students in Jordan are reading at level 2 or below

  • Only 2 in 10 students in Jordan perform at or around the OECD average level in reading.

  • Very few Jordanian fifteen year olds perform at the highest levels of reading fluency (25% for Jordan, Vs an OECD average of 53%).

 These PISA results provide a reason to ‘double-down’ on existing efforts to improve Arabic Literacy in schools. Alongside the important news from PISA, it is important to acknowledge the success of existing efforts to improve the teaching and learning of Arabic literacy. 

The largest of these is the RAMP initiative in Grades 1-3, that is building a legacy of better trained teachers, higher quality teaching resources, and more students on the path to reading literacy. 

However, these PISA results do show the extent of the challenge if we are to accelerate the pace of improvement on literacy. We need now to maintain the gains made in Grades 1-3, deepen them and ensure that they are extended up the school years.