To prioritise this, both from a budgetary and practical point of view, completely overlooks the importance of ensuring that books are a part of every child’s life from a very young age, a measure which is crucial in the cognitive and emotional development of a child, not to mention in promoting empathy, improving literacy, enriching language and encouraging a lifelong love of reading, which has been shown in many studies to lead to better outcomes in adult life.
At a recent international literacy conference held in Dublin Castle (Right To Read: Strengthening Literacy Support and Development through Co-operation) Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD stated that 30% of children in disadvantaged areas leave primary school with reading difficulties.
At the same conference, Dr Peter Archer, director of the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College and member of the OECD PISA governing board highlighted the relationship between reading proficiency and interest.
CBI believes that Government urgently needs to consider early interventions which encourage a love of reading, long before a child reaches school-going age, and that when a child does go to primary school, they should have access to a well-stocked library and a librarian or teacher who can guide them in their reading.
An Taoiseach’s statement that teachers must now be “counsellors and guiders and directors” is absolutely correct; however, in the context of an incredibly low level of financial support for school libraries following the withdrawal of funding for primary school libraries via local authorities, our children need access to real books first.
In his foreword to the 2015 PISA OECD study, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, Andreas Schleicher, director of the Directorate for Education and Skills, found technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices.
CBI is calling on the Government to support a universal book gifting scheme available to babies and their families on a nationwide basis.