September 10, 2012

Children and teens ’embarrassed to read’


St Cuthbert and St Matthias Church of England Primary School

Has the National Literacy Trust stumbled upon the true merit of ereaders? There we all were thinking they’d changed reading habits by upping housewives’ porn intake, when all along we should have been putting them to use in the battle for literacy. This is the positive spin I’m trying to put on the depressing news, garnered from a National Literacy Trust survey released late last week, that  17% of British children and teenagers would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading. This from interviews with 21,000 young people aged between 8 and 16. Kindles and Nooks might still be too obviously bookish, but would reading on an iPad remove the stigma? Of course in the long-term work must be done to erase it altogether, which will be a job for publishers, teachers and parents, but it might just be that a change in format would also contribute to a change in attitude.*

Lucky, of course, would be the school library that could afford a stock of iPads, as this more uplifting story from last week demonstrates. After a Herculean effort on the part of school governors, a primary school in west London has just opened a new library. This is a school with demonstrable problems in English literacy: St Cuthbert and St Matthias Church of England Primary School has about 80 per cent of pupils with English as a second language, and at least twenty-six languages spoken across the school. It also has more than 50 per cent of children on free school meals, meaning that they come from the lowest income families. Recognising the difference a library could make in improving these students’ chances of thriving in an English classroom, governors lobbied the council, ran fairs, ran up and down mountains for sponsorship money, and squeezed old contacts for funds. The library is now open.


* Has anyone heard of a similar survey in the US? As a relatively recent transplant, I’m curious, and well aware that my experience of New York is not representative. The literacy stats are well-documented, but are there any on attitudes to and stigmatisation of reading among young people?


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.