Book Council CEO Jo Cribb wrote the following piece in response to this recent article in Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper.
Kiwi children, especially boys, increasingly grow to dislike writing. By the time they finish primary school, many straight out loathe it.
Can you remember the joy of writing your own story, in those exercise books with wide lines for your wonky letters and space for pictures of birds and taniwha to accompany them? Or the pride you felt when you finally got your pen licence so you could write long essays about the holidays?
How can it be that we are systematically turning our kids off writing?
According to a new report by the Education Review Office (ERO), Keeping our children engaged and achieving in writing, by year 8, attitudes towards writing have dropped markedly, as has average achievement for many students, especially boys and students from lower decile schools.
Despite what some futurists may predict, we are a long way off words, writing and reading not being part of our everyday life. Writing is still a critical skill for the 21st century and one of the main ways we communicate with each other. Writing is intricately linked to our ability to read. As our lives increasingly move online, we probably encounter more words and the need to write more often that we have done in the past.
The ability to write and read is the passport to education and employment and participation in society. It’s how we access and analyse media, gain knowledge from others, participate in democracy, understand phone contracts and find information and services.
So yes, we should all be up in arms - distraught even - that we are turning our kids off writing and their ability to write is declining.
ERO identified what works to keep students engaged in writing. They identified the importance of professional development for teachers so they can identify strategies to engage students. They also identified a range of classroom practices that work.
Not surprisingly the role of parents and whānau is critical too. What children are reading and writing at home is important, but they need to see adults reading too. We are their first teachers.
Why then are we not investing in supporting parents to read and write with their children? Why does the burden fall to teachers and the limited number of hours they have at school each day? There are successful programmes to support parents and communities, such as the Ministry of Education funded Reading Together, but implementation is on a very small scale.
The Book Council’s research last year showed that 442,600 Kiwis didn’t read a book in the past year. We also found fewer men are reading books. Instead of reading in our leisure time, we chose to browse the internet or watch TV. 31% of us read a book once a day.
If we want our children to be competent readers and writers, they need to see us reading and writing.
At the Book Council we know that not everyone finds reading and writing easy and many of us were keen to leave that all behind us as soon as we left school. So we are working hard to find ways to re-engage Kiwis with reading. We have a focus group of men who self-identified as reluctant readers helping us create a campaign to bring blokes back to books. They’re suggesting reading material that might be of interest and interviewing prominent and successful men about their reading habits and recommendations.
Perhaps we need to look at our reading habits, if not for ourselves, but for the next generation of readers and writers who are watching our every move?
- Jo Cribb, CEO, New Zealand Book Council