Does Reading Get You Out of Poverty? — Prime Minister says Yes

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Our PM is a famously bookish fellow. Gordon Brown likes nothing better than some heavy-weight policy tome, we hear. Launching the National Year of Reading this week, the PM was in no doubt that reading is “… probably one of the best anti-poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of.” Wow!

To check this out we turned to ‘Tackling Low Educational Achievement’, by Robert Cassen and Geeta Kingdon (for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Sutton Trust). They certainly found a link. Deprived kids arrive at UK schools with less vocabulary than wealthy kids. And if you find it difficult to read and write early on then you are more likely to be a low educational achiever by 16. So disadvantaged children who are behind educationally before they enter school must get more pre-school help than they do now.

Robert Cassen comments: “Disadvantaged students are also more likely to attend poorly performing secondary schools. And they can miss out on the best teaching if they are regarded as unable to help their school’s league table position”. The result is that deprived kids hit the labour market with poor skills.

Boys generally outnumber girls as low achievers by three to two. And their reading and writing skills are worse in primary school. White British pupils form the majority of low educational achievers according to Cassen and Kingdon. They also do worse than children with similar income levels from other ethnic backgrounds.

The upshot is: we need more intensive help for those behind in learning to read in primary school. An investment at that time of life will pay massive dividends. To the individual, certainly (better skills, and therefore better labour market prospects). But also to society (higher productivity). And also less frustration and therefore crime, as the PM points out.

For more discussion go to the BBC report here. Brits bought 338 million books last year (up by value and volume from 5 years ago). We just need to help our poorer kids enjoy them more (and Victoria Beckham, who claims never to have read a book at all — despite her best-selling autobiography).

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2 Responses to “Does Reading Get You Out of Poverty? — Prime Minister says Yes”

  1. Robert Gould Says:

    The situation is much the same in the U.S., except that the largest percentage of boys falling behind, by ethnic group, are black. In some large U.S. cities, the high school drop out rate among blacks is as high as 75%. This, primarily a result of poor reading skills and a sense of hopelessness.

    Another problem facing our youth, that has a major influence on crime and poverty rates later, is a direct result of the ridicule and torment experienced by those that must repeat a grade. The low self esteem, pain, and anger that results, takes its toll on society later, in terms of increased poverty, crime and abuse. Sadly, this problem is seldom spoken about or properly addressed.

    The solution, is, of course, better reading skills at a younger age. The problem with boys, is that they are not interested enough in typical books to actually desire to read for comprehension. Robert Gould, creator of The Time Soldiers® adventure series comments: “Boys will simply not digest what is force-fed to them.” Gould’s company, Big Guy Books has developed a new genre of “movie-style” books for their Stealth Literacy® program that successfully engages the minds of the reluctant reader…especially boys. The books are testing with great success in schools across the U.S..

  2. Chasy Says:

    The article and the comments so far received makes some very valid points and I wouldn’t wish to demean any of them. However, they are implying that people of a lower education standard who end up in low paid jobs are often going to be living in poverty. The question has to be asked, does poverty actually exist in the UK today? Even people working on the minimum wage are now earning around £11500 a year on a basic week and if they have children this figure can go up after tax credits and other welfare benefits are claimed. The argument as to whether people in the UK are above or below the poverty line depends on just one thing. Where do you draw the line. It seems to me that the definition of poverty is constantly being re-written as society’s expectations grow.

    Reading books from a young age is an absolute necessity to stimulate the mind, develop interests and increase one’s learning curve but to suggest that this is going to help keep you out of poverty I find a little hard to digest.

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