Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Learning to read isn't a skill - it's the doorway to life
Gail Rebuck, chair of Random House, on adult literacy,writing inThe Guardian, Tuesday 3 February 2009

Adult literacy is a stubborn, apparently intractable problem that belies simplistic solutions. The government has spent £5bn on basic skills courses between 2001 and 2007, which will rise to £9bn by 2011. This money has had an effect and progress has been made: the Skills for Life target to improve the skills of 2.25 million adults by 2010 was reached two years early.

But, as last week's all-party public accounts committee report into adult literacy makes clear, there is still a long way to go, with as many as 17.8 million over-18s reported as having poor levels of literacy. This is bad for the economy, bad for society, and - most important - bad for those who have their life potential blighted by an inability to read.

Interestingly, the report makes clear that the problem lies less in the provision of courses and more in the lack of participation in the courses that are available. To a large extent, adult non-readers remain hidden, hard to identify, difficult to reach and, above all, reluctant to enrol in the literacy programmes that could actually make a difference to their lives. Ending adult illiteracy cannot be a one-way process. It is not enough just to provide the mechanisms that can improve reading skills; non-readers have to feel motivated to take part. Learning to read is not a chore to be endured, but something to be enjoyed.

I believe that the key to unlocking the problem of adult illiteracy lies not just in stressing the importance of reading, but in making the reading experience itself as accessible, and enjoyable, as possible. This was our driving sentiment when in 1998 we in the book industry launched World Book Day with the audacious aim of dispatching over 12m £1 book tokens to every UK schoolchild.
Our belief that reading should be fun was also why, in 2006, we launched a joint book industry initiative called Quick Reads - an annual series of entertaining, fast-paced books written in a pared-down style by bestselling authors - with the aim of reaching out to adults in the UK with reading difficulties and to those who rarely or never pick up a book.
Read Rebuck's full comments here.

1 comment:

Spencer said...

good piece. i used to teach adult literacy in chicago. it's a serious problem