According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), literacy levels amongst 16- to 24-year-olds in England is poor. In fact, England lies a lowly 22nd out of 24 countries in the industrialised world.
But what can parents, teachers or librarians do to help rectify this? What tools might they use to turn the latest generation of children on to reading and create a habit that becomes a skill for life?
The answer might just lie with the lowly magazine.
Magazines have long been regarded as throw-away items. Primarily focused on fun and frivolity, they are seen to contain less educational value than books – a kind of poor relation. But what some educators are beginning to realise is that by overlooking what children enjoy digesting they are perhaps missing an important trick.
The first thing to point out is that English children are not inherently less intelligent than kids from other countries. What has become apparent, however, is that it is a lack of engagement with reading that causes a barrier for many children in this country and across the UK as a whole. With so many other distractions and draws on their attention, this generation of children and young adults inevitably find it harder to sit in front of a book than any other – there are just too many other fun things to do.
But what works against the traditional book plays directly into the hands of magazines. Magazines are cool, fun, up-to-date and can be read in short bursts with ease. And perhaps most importantly, they aren’t tarred with the “educational” brush. As Michael Stirling, Editor of The Beano explains, “It’s a sociable experience. Kids can read together, with their parents or just pass it round whenever they’ve finished.”
Another key facet of magazines and comics such as The Beano or Toxic magazine is the increased level of illustration. With eye-catching artwork and photography, magazines can actually help children with poor literacy to develop a greater understanding of the text they are reading – known as scaffolded reading.
Perhaps most convincing of all is the research that shows children who choose to read magazines go on to become more voracious readers. Information gathered from readers of The Beano suggests that those children who own a Beano magazine subscription go on to read an average of 14 books a year – significantly higher than the national average.
So, the next time you are challenged to buy a child a copy of the Beano or even a Toxic magazine subscription, perhaps it’s worth thinking twice before dismissing something that could give a child an appetite for reading.