The scheme is already operating in 15 primary schools but organisers hope more companies will sign up to help children, aged seven and eight, develop their literacy skills. Each volunteer gives two pupils in nearby schools a half hour a week of shared reading time from specially chosen books, with parental involvement and library visits also a key part of the project.
A report evaluating Time to Read — a Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) initiative — said teachers of the second-class pupils already benefiting are seeing a significant impact on their comprehension and fluency when reading. Each week, they are visited at school by volunteers from sponsor firms that include household names such as ESB, Irish Life, and Bord Gáis, but also local business like Inishowen Engineering in Donegal and Ballina Beverages in Mayo.
The research on the pilot initiative also found very high levels of increased enjoyment and confidence at reading as a result of the work of more than 120 company volunteers.
Our Time to Read participants share their experiences @SBP_BITCI pic.twitter.com/6jGqr6N2aK— Business in the Community Ireland (@BITCIreland) December 4, 2013
“The Time to Read volunteers make it fun. They gave us a good time and they let me read loads of books. I didn’t really like reading before Time to Read, but now I do,” said one young participant.
The launch of the wider roll-out of the scheme at the National Library heard about the positive experiences of Conor Doran and Abbey O’Connell, second-class pupils at City Quay National School in Dublin 2, a day after Irish teenagers were reported to be among the best at reading in the world.
While 15-year-old boys still lag behind girls on reading tests, the latest international results show the gap is narrowing.
But one-in-six Irish adults has literacy difficulties, a proportion that has fallen as younger generations improve their skills, and which ongoing initiatives are aiming to address.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said Time to Read fits very will with the Government’s national literacy and numeracy strategy.
“The support provided through this programme by the participating businesses across the communities of Ireland to primary school children at this stage in their education may help hugely as they develop the necessary skills for life-long reading,” he said.
As well as the children, staff have also been found to benefit, with two-thirds reporting improved listening skills in the workplace as a result of their participation.
Pat O’Doherty, chief executive of main sponsor ESB, said the programme not only helps address disadvantage and create more equal opportunities, it also lays foundations for skills needed in the future.