Blame tv, blame radio, blame social media and video games if you want. The fact is that nearly half of the adult population haven’t read a book within the last year, according to research by Kantar Media.
just 51% of adults in the UK read at least one book in the previous year. Not only is this a decrease from 56% in the prior year, it also means 49% – essentially half – of adults in the UK didn’t read a single book in a full 12 months.
The article I read argued that there was a correlation between three things: an increase in young people’s use of mobile phones, poverty and government austerity (shutting of libraries).
Hearing that half the country doesn’t read (I wonder if there’s any link between that figure and recent political results?) is, for someone who reads a great deal and believes that books are absolutely essential to be a fully-functioning modern human being, quite upsetting. I’d be interested in the break-down of ages to see if it’s younger adults who are skewing the non-reading figures upward.
I’d also point towards the way that schools are teaching reading as a cause of the growth in antipathy by young people towards books. Treating books as a tool for simply extracting information or as vehicles of assessment puts children off reading for life. I recently worked in a school where EVERY reading activity had to be based around language analysis. The fact that the school, like so many secondaries nowadays, didn’t have a school library compounded children’s dislike of books. Over the last few years I’ve had a number of Year 11’s – intelligent, capable children – separately tell me that they were glad when their GCSE English Literature exams were over because they would never have to read another book again. One even said he was going to set fire to his copy of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
I’d say that a vibrant reading culture in schools with libraries stocked with modern, engaging books would do more to develop a child’s vocabulary and cultural knowledge than vocabulary drills and knowledge organisers.
This is 21st Century Britain, though. We don’t want people enjoying books. How the hell would the Department of Education be able to measure enjoyment? Enjoying books doesn’t prepare you for the world of work. Don’t be silly!
(I also wonder how many teachers don’t read. I double-also-wonder how many English teachers don’t read anything other than the texts they teach and Facebook? I have my suspicions.)
UPDATE: this 2018 article from The Atlantic reveals that levels of reading in the USA have not improved since 1998. The writer argues that this is due to the restrictive way early years teaching is conducted and a very narrow conception of what constitutes reading comprehension.
The bottom line is that policymakers and advocates who have pushed for more testing in part as a way to narrow the gap between rich and poor have undermined their own efforts. They have created a system that incentivizes teachers to withhold the very thing that could accomplish both objectives: knowledge. All students suffer under this system, but the neediest suffer the most.
I remember reading an analysis of UK literacy about 20 years ago which argued that levels of literacy in this country had remained the same between 1900 and 2000. Since then we’ve had a deliberate obscuration of how reading is assessed in primary and secondary schools so that we understand children’s reading progress only through some arbitrary government standards (KS1-2), a free-for-all approach (KS3) and relative to other students (KS4). It would be good to see some independent research about actual UK levels of reading. Do organisations like NFER still do this sort of thing?
While I was on The Atlantic website, these articles also caught my eye: