The December, 2011 “Reading for Joy” report from People for Education reveals that while reading scores have increased in elementary school, children’s enjoyment of reading has gone down. The percentage of students in grade 3 who report they “like to read” has dropped from 75% in 1998/99 to 50% in 2010/11 and the number of students in grade 6 who “like to read” fell from 65% to 50% during the same period.
These findings are very troubling for the National Reading Campaign, a coalition of Canadians working to ensure that Canada remains a nation of readers.
The National Reading Campaign believes that reading is essential to the well-being and happiness of an individual, and to that person’s capacity to act as a citizen in a democracy. A reading culture begins with the youngest members of society. To establish a strong reading culture in Canada we need to start from the idea that reading is one of the most pleasurable things one can do and build from there.
Patsy Aldana, co-chair of the National Reading Campaign said, “The news in this report, that children in Ontario are losing their love of reading, is shocking. If reading scores are going up at the expense of children’s acquiring a love of reading we need to be very concerned. I hope policy makers take this as a wake-up call. After all, a love of reading underlies student achievement. It also opens the way for a life of pleasure and empowerment. Free choice in and out of school, a wonderful, abundant choice of reading materials and knowledgeable supportive teacher librarians are the best way to give children this joy. We seem to have forgotten why public education has such an important and fundamental role to play in our society—that of creating critical, thinking, empathetic citizens who have all the tools required to tackle the huge challenges that lie ahead. We believe that loving to read is the most important gift we can give our children.”
The “Reading for Joy” report was developed using data from the provincial Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). It also includes research from the OECD showing that reading enjoyment affects learning in all subjects as well as students’ sense of social and civic engagement. The report also notes that teacher-librarians have an impact on students’ attitudes toward reading. A study by People for Education and Queen’s University found that in elementary schools with teach-librarians, students are more likely to “like to read”. In spite of these findings, percentage of Ontario elementary schools with teacher-librarians has fallen from 76% in 1998/99 to 56% in 2010/11.
“Our education system should be focused on building students’ enjoyment of reading,” says Annie Kidder, Executive Director of People for Education. “Instead, the evidence seems to show we’re stifling it. We must begin to expand our educational goals for Ontario schools and students beyond targets for test scores in reading, writing and math. Reading for joy has an impact on students’ lives while they are in school and long after they leave it. It is vital that we begin to pay more attention to something we know contributes to broad and long-lasting success for young people. ”
The National Reading Campaign calls on the Ministry of Education, teachers, teacher librarians, parents and others concerned with how we teach reading in schools, to enter into a dialogue on how to ensure that children’s love of reading is nurtured and reinforced by our school system and our families.
The full report is available on the National Reading Campaign’s website at www.nationalreadingcampaign.ca