A ‘less literate’ society?

A new study from the The Literacy Trust has revealed that the number of young children choosing to read outside school is declining steadily, year on year.

The Trust found that just three in 10 schoolchildren now read every day in their own time compared with four in 10 seven years ago, while many are turning away from all sorts of reading material. The research suggests that children are spurning books, magazines and even comics in favour of other activities such as television and games consoles.

Against the backdrop of United Nations’ International Literacy Day, which took place on 8 September, the findings of the study seem particularly pertinent. According to UNESCO, which helps promote the Day with the aim of raising awareness and concern about literacy issues, around one in five adults across the globe, or a staggering 774 million, still lack basic reading and writing skills.

Even here in the UK, we face clear challenges around literacy. Last year, The Literacy Trust reported that one in six people in the UK have the literacy level expected of an 11-year old, while one in three children – amounting to almost 4 million – do not own a book.

Libraries under threat

Here at Children & the Arts, we recognise that fostering a love of books amongst young children is more likely to encourage reading into adulthood.  Even more importantly, supporting literacy is vital to breaking the cycle of underachievement that many young people find themselves trapped in.

Yet many libraries and organisations responsible for promoting reading and books amongst children are currently facing serious cutbacks and funding shortages – an issue expertly highlighted in the Independent newspaper recently, in an open letter addressed to the new Secretary of State for Culture Maria Miller, from Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson.

In her letter, Donaldson describes the ‘erosion’ of libraries around the country, with ‘nearly 250 under threat of closure’, and admits she is particularly concerned about the effects of the decline on children’s reading.

“If children don’t discover what books they like, they are unlikely to become life-long readers, and we are therefore heading for a less literate society,” she warns.

“Illiteracy leads to lower skills, greater social problems, higher crime rates, and a country less able to prosper in the global jobs market.”

Concluding, Donaldson implores Miller to ring-fence funding for children’s library services to address her concerns seriously and to ‘show leadership’. We will be paying close attention to Miller’s response.

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