DUBAI // High school students in Dubai finished 43rd in reading literacy out of 65 education zones tested throughout the world, a study revealed yesterday.
Last year, a group of 5,620 students from 134 public and private schools were chosen by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) to take part in standardised tests in reading, mathematics and science, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).
The results of the Pisa study, which was conducted in 63 countries, showed that students in Dubai posted an average score of 459 out of 600 points in reading skills. In mathematics and science, Dubai was ranked 41st.
Although results for the emirate did not appear very high, they were better than those of Jordan and Qatar.
"Dubai is doing better than most of its regional neighbours, but student performance still needs considerable improvement to catch up with the world's leading education systems," said Andreas Schleicher, head of the Pisa study.
Mr Schleicher said one third of the students in Dubai did not reach the baseline level two in reading literacy, which was considered the minimum level required for success in a "knowledge-based economy".
Level one, the lowest level, was defined by the programme as a category where "their skills are restricted to answering questions involved with familiar contexts, when all relevant information is present and the questions are clearly defined".
Pisa assessments test 15-year-old students on the ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges, outside the specifications of the curriculum taught at school.
Pisa is governed and coordinated by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and administers its test once every three years.
Students in Shanghai, China, ranked the highest with a score of 556.
The low-level reading skills of students in the country did not come as a surprise to Dr Ghassoub Mustafa, an English professor at Dubai Women's College, who believed the culture of reading for pleasure was non-existent at home and schools.
"Reading is a boring task and is seen as a subject required to 'pass', making students hate it," he said.
He said students did not even read books in their native language, which hampered their ability to acquire new languages.
"In the Arab world there is more reliance on [oral] storytelling, which is not enough.
"Students entering college lack the basic skill of going into a library and finding a book - something they should have learned 12 years ago."
The KHDA will reveal the full results and provide comment on student performance later today.