According to the latest PISA survey, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, there is a worse situation in the EU, where 20 % of young people have reading difficulties, than in comparable countries across the globe - compare with 18% in the USA, 14% in Japan, 10% in Canada and just 6% in Korea. Furthermore, the gender gap between boys and girls is widening. Girls outperform boys in reading skills by the equivalent of one year of schooling.
A similarly serious challenge exists beyond school. More than 75 million adults in the EU currently have low or basic skills, and many of them do not have sufficient literacy levels to cope with the daily requirements of personal, social, and economic life. People with limited basic skills not only risk being excluded from further education or training, but will also increasingly find themselves locked out of the labour market and society. This is already happening. Unemployment rates for young people are climbing and unemployment stands at more than 50% across the EU for those who have only basic school qualifications or none at all.
The European Commission regularly monitors the success of education reforms in EU countries. Reducing the share of 15 year olds with poor reading skills to 15 % by 2020 is one of its five joint European targets (benchmarks).
On 1 February 2011 the Commission launched a High Level Group of experts in the field of literacy. This group is examining how literacy can be supported through lifelong learning and what makes for successful literacy programmes and policy initiatives. In mid-2012 the experts will issue policy proposals to the Commission on improving literacy among both school students and adults.
Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou also launched 'Europe loves reading', an awareness raising campaign to motivate children, adolescents and adults to read, complementary to the 'All of Europe Reads to kids programme'.
To gather more information on reading, parental involvement in literacy acquisition and teaching reading the Commission has launched two studies: