I will be honest, when I was at secondary school I was never a big reader. There had been a few books that captivated my interest, like the Harry Potter series or His Dark Materials trilogy but apart from that I did not read much at all. I did, however, pick up the reading bug at Sixth Form College, and have been hooked ever since.
Now, it is my firm and fundamental belief that reading is the most important activity in education. A child who learns to be a good confident reader – but also finds a passion for reading – will most likely go on to achieve great things in formal education. Someone who reads really can learn anything; all they must do is pick up a book and read it. Of course it is not all that simple, and I am certainly not saying that there is not a role for teachers in this desired method of education – what I am saying is that reading is very important to individual study. Indeed, it is a skill which becomes more important as children progress in education.
However, my feeling is that increasingly we are moving away from teaching the joys reading can incite – and I truly believe it is fair to use the word ‘joy’. In secondary school I cannot remember many occasions where children were actively encouraged to read. Of course, I am fully aware that this is personal experience, but I also know that in the GCSE curriculum it is not required for children to have read more than one book and for many, generally lower achieving, schools, this book is read in class not in students’ own time.
I have empathy for teachers. They know they need the children to read books to have any chance of passing the relevant exams but unfortunately this is a treatment of the symptoms, not the illness. Is it not startling that we cannot simply give a book to a fifteen year old and expect them to read it from cover to cover? Exams are important, but if children are not learning to enjoy reading and are not reading widely, then we have already failed them , regardless of whether we can cram them full of information about a book for a test that they may not have even read.
I believe that encouraging children to read is necessary as soon as they reach secondary school. There is a scheme used in some schools called ‘Drop Everything And Read‘ or DEAR. This is a scheme where for fifteen minutes of every day everyone in a given school reads. And they mean everyone. Not just all students and teachers, but secretarial staff and janitors. Everyone. This scheme has been very successful in encouraging young people to read as it gives them role models to look up to and follow, and creates an environment in which they are surrounded by adults that read, something they may not be used to at home.
I think the decline in reading is often attributed to the rise in technology. This may indeed be true in the sense that people do not read as much as they used to, but this does not excuse the fact that there are children growing up never having read. No one ever said it was easy, but the benefits are so overwhelming that if we do not try we are failing hundreds of thousands of children. How can anyone hope to raise their aspirations and attend university if they do not expand their knowledge in their own time? Of course, we can learn in many different ways now but we cannot let that fact make us neglect this obviously greatly consistent method of learning.
The benefits are too great. Not only will we give children a life long passion and interest, but spelling, grammar, vocabulary can all be greatly improved by just reading. As someone who suffers from dyslexia, even I noticed the difference in my spelling when I started reading regularly, and if it helped me it will certainly help others. If we wish to have children that are articulate, well rounded and intellectually curious, I believe we should do everything we can to encourage reading – it may not be something that can be easily examined and marked – but education is so much more than just grades. It is a process, and reading is fundamental to it. Let us not forget that.