Restoring children’s love for literature

31 October 2022
4 min read
CEO – Oxford University Press

Nigel Portwood

“After all, books can open doors to exploring exciting new places and cultures, as well as understanding more about our own surroundings; all of which will be essential for the next generation when it comes to navigating their way through the world.”

Last month, we launched our Raise a Reader campaign in the UK, to help provide children and young people with the tools and opportunities to become lifelong readers. Over the next three years, the campaign will champion reading for pleasure and the transformative benefits it can have on a child’s life, bringing together schools, booksellers, local communities, parents, librarians, literacy partners, and reading experts.

As part of the campaign, we have collaborated with the National Literacy Trust, joining the Primary School Library Alliance as a flagship partner. We will shortly be taking Raise a Reader directly to communities, visiting ten locations across England with lower levels of literacy to facilitate engaging activities and workshops with OUP authors and illustrators—all aimed to celebrate the joys of reading.

Taking steps to support and inspire a generation of readers has never been so important. Research unveiled alongside the Raise a Reader campaign outlined some of the challenges parents experience in reading with their child; nearly half of those surveyed (43%) said screen time and gadgets often cause distraction. A lack of time and difficulty in establishing a regular reading routine were also cited as contributing factors.

Adding to this, research from the National Literacy Trust highlighted that reading enjoyment levels among children have dropped to just under 50%. A concurrent survey revealed that nearly one in five children between 5-8 years-old in the UK do not have a book at home.

And our previous research into the word gap—where vocabulary is below age-related expectations—also found that deficiencies in literacy can have a significant impact on children’s mental health, as well as educational attainment. Confidence, social skills, and the ability to engage in conversation are all affected.

These statistics are extremely worrying to see, given the difference we know that reading can make to young people; it’s been shown that developing a love of reading from an early age can help to improve literacy and vocabulary, as well as support future education.

I have previously talked about the power of language to inspire expression and help people to make sense of the world around them. That’s why we need to provide schools with the necessary materials, engage with parents and carers, and promote positive attitudes towards reading so that we can restore a love of literature among children.

At OUP, we remain committed to developing resources and highlighting the benefits that reading can bring. Indeed, our Raise a Reader campaign works hand-in-hand with existing, literacy-focused projects around the world. For example, in Australia, we supported the Great Book Swap for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) to provide books and learning tools to children living in remote communities. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, we held an interactive Urdu storytelling and singalong session at the OUP Bookshop in Karachi.

Where possible, we also try to align with wider local government efforts. For example, earlier this year, OUP India’s REaD (Read, Engage, and Develop) campaign—following on from the Ministry of Education’s 100-day reading initiative—worked alongside school leaders, teachers, librarians, parents, and experts to equip them with the materials and opportunities to inspire learners to read. Similarly, our Road to Literacy Campaign in South Africa, in partnership with the AVBOB Group, saw 86,000 books being donated to 180 primary schools and non-profit organizations, contributing to the South African government’s ambition to address poor literacy skills across the country.

In addition to this, we are proud to work with our long-standing charity partner, Book Aid International, whose vision is ‘a world where everyone has access to books that will enrich, improve, and change their lives’. In 2021, we helped them to send hundreds of thousands of books to 150 partners in 24 countries. Likewise, our employees have the chance to volunteer with ARCh—an Oxfordshire-based charity—who provide reading assistance in local primary schools.

It’s encouraging to know that our literacy campaigns and initiatives are bringing enjoyment to children around the globe and inspiring young people to pick up and enjoy a book. After all, books can open doors to exploring exciting new places and cultures, as well as understanding more about our own surroundings; all of which will be essential for the next generation when it comes to navigating their way through the world.

You can download our report on the perceptions of reading, with recommendations for parents and teachers, and find out more about our partnership with the National Literacy Trust, which supports schools with access to reading spaces, books, and advice.