Poor literacy among Dutch teens rises at alarming rate

Reading an e-book on a Kindle (Photo: Mia5793/Wikimedia Commons)Reading an e-book on a Kindle (Photo: Mia5793/Wikimedia Commons)

The number of Dutch 15-year-olds that have trouble reading is increasing at an alarming rate, according to a report by the Foundation for Reading and Writing. Currently 18 percent, about one in six, Dutch 15-year-olds can't follow the subtitles of a movie or understand the content of a letter from the municipality or school. In 2012 it was 13.8 percent, AD reports.

The increase is very worrying when taken into consideration that between 2003 and 2012 poor literacy increased only from 11.5 percent to 13.8 percent. Foundation director Merel Heimens Visser is very concerned about this trend, she said to newspaper AD. 

Currently one in ten students in group eight of primary school have trouble with Dutch. In secondary education that increases to one in six of 15-year-olds. At MBO 2 level it is even one in three. "The further up you go in school career, the more unpleasant are the figures", she said to the newspaper.

According to the researchers, children now read less than they used to and are therefore less practiced in reading. The foundation calls the 15-year-olds a "forgotten group". Primary school kids have educational programs to help them if they struggle reading. But among teens language delays get hardly any attention. Heimens Visser calls this a missed opportunity. "Intervening at that age can have a significant impact. Their brains work like a sponge."

According to the report, poor literacy often goes hand in hand with an unhappy life. "People who are poorly literate are more unhappy. They live six years less, are three times as often on welfare, have low incomes and are more in debt." Poor literacy also increases the cost to society.