The Cultural Foundation is initiating a two-year project, which involves donating a book package to all schools in Finland that teach years 7 to 9 (lower secondary school). The package will contain 50–150 specially produced or recently published plain-language or easy-reading books. The project will be carried out by the Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature.
The target audience are lower secondary pupils who for one reason or another are as yet unable to read books in standard language but can aim to do so with practice. The causes behind reading difficulties may be lack of practice or motivation, diverse attention deficit disorders, dyslexia or having an immigrant background.
Teachers will be offered training and materials for using plain-language and easy-reading books. At the same time, the current selection of plain-language literature will expand with the commissioning of new books for the packages.
“The adolescents who benefit from plain-language books are interested in reading the same books as their peers, so they are looking for plain-language adaptations of popular works,” explains Kaisa Laaksonen, executive director of the Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature. There is demand for more horror, detective, fantasy, sci-fi and romance books, as well as for non-fiction, including biographies of athletes and other celebrities. At the start of the project, a survey will be conducted to find out in further detail what kinds of books might encourage the pupils to read more.
“Many of the plain-language books that are available for young people are too easy, while standard-language ones are too hard. We need a more diverse selection,” says Finnish language and literature teacher Elina Mäntylammi from Juhannuskylä School in Tampere. “There is a huge shortage of plain-language texts in schools. This book donation will make life easier for teachers, because it will allow us to offer reading material to suit various readers.”
Plain-language books can inspire the less confident readers
Literacy has declined among Finnish children and adolescents during the twenty-first century. As many as 14 per cent of those graduating from comprehensive school lack sufficient reading skills for coping with everyday situations.
Plain-language books are used in Finnish lower secondary schools to respond to various reading difficulties. Children suffering from dyslexia or attention deficit issues can read them instead of books in standard language, which may be too difficult, while those who speak Finnish as a second language can use them as learning materials. Those who lack a routine or motivation for reading can use plain-language books to awaken their interest and practise their technique. Plain-language adaptations make it possible for readers of all levels to carry out group work together. Through practice with plain-language books, some can move on to easy-reading books and, eventually, standard-language ones.
Although the need for plain-language books has grown in schools, school libraries tend to stock a very limited selection. “Buying plain-language books for schools is difficult and expensive. Thanks to our support, the selection of new plain-language books that lower secondary schoolers have access to will grow considerably”, says author Karo Hämäläinen, who sits on the Cultural Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
The Cultural Foundation has been working consistently to improve reading skills in Finland. The aim of its Reading Gifts for Children programme, initiated in 2019, is to encourage families with young children to read aloud. This is done by handing out book bags via maternity and paediatric clinics. The Reading Clans project, on the other hand, focused on improving school libraries and their selections between 2017 and 2019. Since 2017, the Cultural Foundation has supported reading in Finland with around EUR 5 million in funding.