Young people struggling in digital world, finds latest OECD PISA survey

03/12/2019 - One in four students in OECD countries are unable to complete even the most basic reading tasks, meaning they are likely to struggle to find their way through life in an increasingly volatile, digital world. This is one of the findings of the OECD’s latest PISA global education test, which evaluates the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems.

The OECD’s PISA 2018 tested around 600,000 15-year-old students in 79 countries and economies on reading, science and mathematics. The main focus was on reading, with most students doing the test on computers.


The latest PISA findings also reveal the extent to which digital technologies are transforming the world outside of school. More students today consider reading a waste of time (+ 5 percentage points) and fewer boys and girls read for pleasure (- 5 percentage points) than their counterparts did in 2009. They also spend about 3 hours outside of school online on weekdays, an increase of an hour since 2012, and 3.5 hours on weekends.

That doesn’t sound good.

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What about reading informative stuff online?

I can’t even remember the last time I read a book but I always read articles and follow the news online.

And they never mention informative videos. The amount of people reading a book might be decreasing but I bet the viewage of informative videos and podcasts are going up.

Studies like these assume that people are always wasting their time online.


I agree. Not every teen is spending all their online hours on social media.

I don’t believe in making anyone read something against their will, meaning, if someone isn’t interested in classic literature like Shakespeare (for instance) but has to read it for school, they’ll learn to dislike classic literature because they didn’t read it by choice. I like the American novel The Grapes of Wrath because I chose to read it outside of class. I dislike Animal Farm because I was required to read it for a class about the Cold War.

Teen girls do want to read books like Twilight. If I taught secondary school English, I would have the students choose from a pre-selected list of books they could read for my class, and discuss the books in the context of what “good writing” means. I can understand why teen girls like Twilight, even though as an adult I feel the book is poorly written.

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Twilight series, it’s about a teen girl and her vampire boyfriend. A lot of the first book involves the girl admiring the vampire from afar and constantly mentioning how handsome he is. There are other major not-fully-human characters in the rest of the series, but I only ever read the first book myself).


About 25% of the population has an IQ of 90 or less. 85 is the cutoff for the US armed services.

I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect much more.

“Around one in four students in OECD countries, on average, do not attain the basic level of science (22%) or maths (24%). This means that they cannot, for example, convert a price into a different currency.”


I remember watching a lot of videos by the linguist Stephen Krashen on “the literacy crises” (example: )
As far as I remember he claimed it’s mostly untrue and literacy/reading rates are better than ever. Especially as people in more disadvantaged areas have better access to education and reading materials. Also, as highlighted above, young people read a lot from the internet. Also, reading scores would have some level of variability from year to year. A 5% difference could be due to technology or other variables or could just be noise. I haven’t read the study so just my first thoughts.


My subjective take on the situation is that people do a lot more reading and interpretation of symbols than they did before WWII.

It’s true that few are reading for its own sake and people aren’t reading books and essays. But people navigate traffic control signs and information, websites, advertisements, filling in forms, chatting on forums and the like.