The UNESCO in a 2012 report found that 774 million people worldwide, including 123 million youth, could not read or write. Even those at school are lagging behind in reading age relative to their chronological age. UNESCO’s ‘Education For All Report’ puts the number of functionally illiterate children in primary schools at 250 million. They will always remain behind others unless they are able to step up and read for comprehension, analysis and building better arguments.
Without strong reading skills they will continue to operate sub-optimally. While observers of communication do speak of this brave new world that is beyond scripts, it remains to be seen if it can be of any economic use. People with smartphones do communicate in emoticons, videos, recordings and more—they tend to use little language, and very little of what is considered traditional reading skills. Yet, these are social applications, not work. And people do manage to navigate smartphones with low levels of literacy. They are used to store phone numbers, to access the internet, to download ringtones and other multimedia stuff. Not efficiently, but sufficiently. Maybe it is time to take another look at our definitions of functional reading.
Support and community engagement always improves reading levels. Community support for reading could include neighbourhood reading sessions, shared tutors, libraries and other shared resources, and even peer pressure. When reading becomes embedded in the culture of a community, competencies follow.
A large chunk of the work towards reading has been done by Pratham Books in India, taking off from where the National Book Trust left off—both are making excellent books for children at reasonable prices.
The NBT books and the Pratham Books style and distribution models are different, yet both carry a serious commitment to reading. Katha too invests in stories and has extended their model to schools where children go through a stepped process to achieve independent reading levels via stories. There are may others investing in reading either directly or indirectly. And there are many innovations that need to be captured and replicated.
It may be time to raise the game and bring about a reading revolution.
Image Source : @zenrainman