Evert’s comment: Let’s help to enhance reading skills

Quality time. Reading to children creates a moment together. Photo ANP, Koen Suyk

Alarm: reading skills go down! Last week, international research showed that children in most EU countries are less able to handle a book and understand the story than in the past.

To be honest, I find it unbelievable. Europe is part of the Western world, which has the most advanced education system. We have run schools for more than a thousand years. We should know which methods work and which do not.

And what is the result? Negative! We are moving backwards. The Pisa research shows that. Pisa is the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment. This organisation regularly inquires about the quality of education among 15-year-olds in 81 countries.

From experience, we know that reading is also essential for other subjects. Understanding a book –even if it is an Agathe Christie’s detective– proves the ability of abstract thinking, patience and attention span. Those abilities are helpful for other subjects as well, like mathematics, history or science.

In other words, reading, writing, and arithmetic are central to all education. But reading comes first. How could you apply for a job if you could not understand the advertisement?

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Also the Jewish tradition has a reading culture. Photo AFP, Roberto Schmidt

Reading is central to the Christian life as well. Schools existed before that (modern) state was invented. Churches started them. Christians saw a duty to educate the people for many reasons. Reading and writing were the first subjects the pupils began with.

Living as a Christian without being able to read would be difficult, too. God has chosen to reveal Himself in a book, the Bible. No doubt, also an illiterate person can be saved. The Biblical message is not only read but also preached. Especially nowadays, smartphone apps facilitate listening to the Bible and Biblical sermons while gardening, walking or working.

But all this is only possible with reading. Few pastors could prepare a sermon without using their Hebrew Bible and thick commentaries.

Apart from this, the Christian life is broader than just reading the Bible. People from many European languages are blessed with so much good literature written from a Christian worldview, which is helpful to live the Christian life. On a Christian bookshelf, you find all genres: fiction, poetry, children’s and young adult’s books, everything. You also find old authors in new translations, like St. Augustine, John Calvin and Martin Luther.

Through the centuries, reading has undoubtedly put a fingerprint on the Protestant tradition in many countries. It has created a culture. It would be a massive loss if we would lose this.

The Pisa results are clear. If we do nothing, the line will continue to go down. Therefore, what can we do?

As for almost all other problems, people look to the government first. And the government likes that idea too, because she thinks she can solve problems. And then you have the debate: how much extra money can we spend on education?

But it is better to start at the other end: what could we do at home to help the next generation with reading? A few suggestions:

  • Buy a few lovely picture books for children and pronounce the words for what they see in the book. By doing that, you stimulate their language skills. There are even picture books that are specially developed for this purpose.

  • Make time for story reading to the kids at a young age. This means a lot for children. Even if you would do this in a strange language like Chinese or Arabic, your child would enjoy this special moment with you. And as soon as the child follows the story, it will discover a whole world of people and events in that pile of paper between two covers.

  • By telling the child, “we continue tomorrow”, you stimulate the child in patience. It must delay its curiosity about how the story goes from A to Z.

  • Collect books in your home and make them available. You could unpack the ones that you had in your own youth. Nowadays you can get a lot of material in second-hand shops too.

  • Think about minimising the use of digital devices as much as possible. At least for a specific time of the day. A video is much more attractive than a book. But the time your children spend on the screen, they cannot pay for reading.

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Reading to children exists in all cultures. Photo AFP, Ed Jones

Even with millions of Euros, no Ministry of Education can achieve what you can do yourself, quite easily at home, with almost no money at all. Grab your chance, fight the bad Pisa results, and rescue the reading culture!

Chain

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