A study by the publisher Pearson has found that concern in schools about children’s reading ability and desire is widespread. By the age of 11, when children move from primary to secondary school in the UK, teachers claim that over 40% of students fail to read for pleasure. While a decline in the amount of time spent reading recreationally is to be expected in a modern world that holds more competing objects of attention such as television and the internet, having so many children abandon books completely is potentially troubling.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, the author, said: “It’s worrying to think that so many young children are not being inspired to pick up a good book and get lost in a story.
“According to Unesco, the biggest single indicator of whether a child is going to thrive at school and in work is whether or not they read for pleasure.”
The problem with children not reading is that reading tends to correlate with development and maintenance of attention span. If children have diminished attention spans they will struggle to absorb and integrate new information and thus have problems with their academic studies.
The survey by Pearson was commissioned alongside the launch of a new set of classroom reading books and had 400 secondary school English teachers as respondents; two thirds of which identified lack of coolness as being a major cause of the terminal decline in recreational reading amongst pupils. 75% also believed children’s attention spans to be shorter than they have been before.
The poll revealed that teachers believe parents are not doing enough to help, with 97 per cent claiming mothers and fathers should be encouraging their child to read more.
This is far from the first time that a decline in childhood attention spans has been linked to diminished interest in reading. It was noted by the Telegraph in February that many modern children were unable to focus on the books of Dickens, a view espoused with some horror by the biographer Claire Tomalin.
“What Dickens wrote about is still amazingly relevant,” she said.
“The only caveat I would make is that today’s children have very short attention spans because they are being reared on dreadful television programmes which are flickering away in the corner.
“Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that’s a pity.”
Of interest is that teachers noted recent book and film series such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins could spark pupils’ interest in reading. While Ms Collins is far from being the literary equivalent of Dickens, at this point having children interested in reading anything should be seen as a win and a foundation to build upon. The biggest concern is that the lack of parental encouragement when it comes to reading in the home will only get worse when the current non-reading generation of children grow up to have children of their own.