September 10, 2014

Kids read texts, not books. Can a campaign change that?


This is a problem. (via Shutterstock)

Britain might be one of the wealthiest countries in the world but a new report has shown that it is one of the most unequal in the EU when it comes to reading levels. Our reading levels have more in common with Romania, than close neighbours like France or Germany.

And it’s the most disadvantaged kids that are missing out, with “40% not reading well by the age of 11 – almost double the rate of their better off peers”, the Guardian reports. There is now a real fear that “1.5 million British children will reach the age of 11 unable to “read well” by 2025.”

Or to put it in financial terms, British GDP could be $32bn higher in 2025 if only we could get kids reading.

Charities like Save the Children and Teach First, institutions like The Sun and the Premier League, and celebrities like JK Rowling are now coming together to promote  the “Read On. Get On” campaign, which aims to put reading at the centre of the political agenda. The campaign wants to convince all major political parties to include improving the reading of the disadvantaged in their 2015 manifestos. But the problem is surely part of the larger issue of the widening class divide in Britain, which can be seen everywhere from the rise in food bank usage to the fall in social mobility and rise in elitism in influential professions such as politics, law and journalism.

The study behind the campaign found that the most commonly read material by children is now text messages, with websites and ebooks also growing in popularity although books remained important. But access to books is also part of the problem, with “a quarter of 11-year-olds in the poorest families having fewer than 10 books in their home”, according to the Guardian.

Dame Julia Cleverdon, who is chairing the campaign, said the definition of reading well was the ability to read, comprehend and talk about books like Harry Potter.  But the campaigners have also been careful to talk in the language that politicians understand: money. Teaching those 11 year olds to read now could result in an extra £32bn in GDP in ten years.  It’s a long shot, but maybe they’ll reopen all those local libraries now?



Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.