So Nick Clegg has pledged to eliminate child illiteracy http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30869083, a commendable aspiration and one that I’m sure we all agree with. And as we’ve managed to eradicate smallpox and rinderpest worldwide surely this can’t be that difficult. Although I seem to remember Michael Gove saying the same thing not that long ago http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10883176/Michael-Gove-says-Tories-will-aim-to-wipe-out-illiteracy-within-a-generation.html
The problem with this idea is that he hasn’t thought about what you really need to do to create literate children … get them reading. And to read you need access to reading material. And where do you find access to reading material, enough to satisfy every demand, every interest, every level of ability? Certainly not in the majority of homes considering National Literacy Trust research shows that one in three children do not own a book http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8934429/4m-children-in-UK-do-not-own-a-single-book-study-finds.html
And forget about the idea that you don’t need books because everything is available on the internet (it isn’t) since this doesn’t take into account the 17% of households who do not have internet access http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rdit2/internet-access---households-and-individuals/2013/stb-ia-2013.html. Besides, how can you read a pop-up book or explore those touchy-feely books on a screen?
The answer is libraries, both public and school. Libraries with librarians.
Nick Clegg has concentrated on the education system and promises more money to deal with literacy problems. But creating readers has to start before a child gets to school. A child needs to learn that those symbols on a page equate to words; sounds that they associate with things, feelings, actions. And this is done by reading with and to them. We need to support parents by providing the facilities and resources (and by this I mean both stock and people) to do this and shutting their local public library is not helping them.
And when those children do get into the education system, throwing literacy initiatives and reading programmes at them is not going to engender a love of reading. It’s probably going to have the opposite result. I’m not saying that other aspects of literacy are unimportant, capital letters and full stops have their role to play but you cannot write unless you can read! Children need to be exposed to a wide range of reading material and given the chance to explore it so they can make their own discoveries. And where in a school can you find this? What department will have such a range of resources, selected by a professional who knows what is available, who has the time to find out what individuals are interested in and what type of readers they are? Yes, it’s the school library. The one and only place in the whole school that inclusively supports reading for pleasure. So closing school libraries is not helping children either.
I would say to anybody who is serious about eradicating illiteracy that public and school libraries have to be the support system in this initiative. Take them away and it’s like removing the skeleton from a body, it will end up a crumpled mess on the floor.