Children's reading skills have declined
According to the results of the PISA surveys, children’s reading skills declined more sharply in Finland than in any other OECD country between 2000 and 2012. At the same time, a gap in reading skills has formed between girls and boys, which is larger than in other countries. Furthermore, boys, girls and multilingual pupils with poor reading skills are at risk of social exclusion. The differences between the genders start to form as early as primary school, and by year nine, girls are one and a half years ahead of boys when it comes to reading. In the 2015 PISA survey, the decline in reading skills was reversed, showing a slight increase. However, one out of every ten Finnish youths is still unable to reach a level of reading skills that would allow them to continue their studies and fully operate in the society.
“According to PISA surveys, reading skills have declined the most among the children of the most disadvantaged families. Since the ability to read is a basic requirement for education and employment, this means that there is a risk of disadvantage and social exclusion being passed down. This may in turn further deepen the social division of Finns,” says Professor Riitta Pyykkö, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
“Good reading skills are the key to lifelong learning and full-fledged citizenship. It is high time we wake up to the fact that a growing number of young people are not reaching the minimum level for reading skills,” says Professor Jouni Välijärvi from the University of Jyväskylä, who is also the national coordinator of PISA in Finland.
Good reading skills are the key to lifelong learning and full-fledged citizenship.
Together with the copyright society Kopiosto, the Cultural Foundation will provide EUR 2 million for establishing and developing school libraries, for book acquisitions and for promoting reading in all the primary and comprehensive schools in Finland.
“So far the Cultural Foundation has made a decision to provide EUR 1.4 million in funding to the two-year Reading Clan project, but we are currently looking into other, more far-reaching measures as well. Promoting the reading skills of children, closing the gap between girls and boys and helping disadvantaged families can only be achieved through widespread and determined national cooperation,” says Riitta Pyykkö.
All the primary and comprehensive schools in Finland will be involved
The target group of the Reading Clan project consists of all the primary and comprehensive schools in Finland. Although the project is targeted at all primary school-aged children, it will focus particularly on children in years 3 and 4, and boys. The project will be implemented in 2017 and 2018.
The Reading Clan project is divided into two phases. In the first phase, starting in the 2017 autumn term, schools can participate in a competition for establishing or developing their school library, with prizes to be awarded for the best ideas. The prize money will be primarily used for book acquisitions, but schools are also urged to develop their libraries into functional spaces, which could be used to organise book talks or themed weeks, for example.
“It’s the teachers and pupils themselves who know best how to promote reading at school. This is why we are hoping for schools to provide us with some different and inspiring ideas. There are no restrictions regarding media – the material to be acquired can consist of anything from rap music to novels. However, it would be beneficial for schools and school libraries to pursue cooperation with school afternoon activities, parents’ associations, public libraries or library buses, for example,” says Deputy Managing Director Jukka-Pekka Timonen from Kopiosto.
In the second phase, starting in spring 2018, schools can order a book club package to support their teaching. The book club packages contain approximately 50 books, as well as pedagogic material for teachers, the aim of which is to make it as easy as possible for teachers to implement the book club method. These book clubs are called reading clans in the project. The Reading Clan website will also feature material to accompany the books that will encourage children to read. For schools, this is all free of charge.
The reading habits set by families, a major impact on children’s reading
“Logical thinking is best developed through reading fiction. Fiction typically leaves gaps that the readers must fill in themselves. Reading allows people to live many lives and learn from the choices of the characters in the books,” says author Jari Järvelä, who is a member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and the initiator of the project.
“The new core curriculum for basic education emphasises multiliteracy and experiential reading and highlights the development of school library operations. This is why the Reading Clan project is well suited to everyday school work and for combining teaching in different subjects. Reading develops critical and cultural reading skills, which are becoming increasingly important in modern society,” says Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director of the Finnish National Agency for Education.
“In terms of practical school work, it is important for teachers to be able to easily and quickly provide pupils with reading material, which is why providing schools with books and tools that facilitate the work of teachers is so important,” says Marko Jokinen, representative of the Finnish teachers’ association.
“The reading habits and example set by families have a major impact on children’s reading. This is why we are also encouraging parents’ associations to develop ways to participate in this project,” says Ulla Siimes, Executive Director of the Finnish Parents’ League.
Alongside the Lukuklaani project, the Finnish Cultural Foundation and Kopiosto are preparing a research project on children’s reading in collaboration with the University of Helsinki and the National Agency for Education.
“Children’s reading skills are a matter of great national importance. This is why we are also encouraging other parties to work towards promoting children’s reading skills. This is the only way that we can achieve results that have an impact,” says Jari Järvelä.
Magdalena Hai, an author of books for children and teens, is writing a serial novel for the project. It will be published on the project website both as a text and an audio book. The artwork will be by illustrator Sara Kötleki.