Learning to Read Outside the Classroom

Even children who pick up minimum literacy skills are failing to become ‘good’ readers, a report by John Comings of the NGO World Education stated in April. The reasons for this are many and varied (interrupted schooling, being taught a language they don’t speak, lack of effective instruction) but one in particular stood out: reading that takes place outside the classroom is vastly beneficial, but children don’t get nearly enough of it.


This is because of a lack of access to reading materials that are actually enjoyable for children to read. Often, they are unable to find books written for their age group, and anything age-appropriate is second-hand and written in a foreign language. This presents a problem as studies have shown that children learn best when they recognise that the language they speak is made up of specific sounds. From there, they sound out words written on a page until they progress to the stage where they don’t need to sound out words anymore. It’s not hard to see why children learn to read their own language far more easily than a foreign language.


When we in affluent Western societies learn to read there is no end to the volume of extra-curricular reading materials available to us. We have libraries, bookshops, and personal collections all bursting with stories that we can take home, sit down with, and take our time. All these books are written in the language we speak, and are helpfully categorised into ‘recommended reading ages’. Millions of books fill out each ‘reading age’ bracket. It is a world away from the situations of children around the world who want to read outside the classroom but don’t have the resources.


The solutions to these types of problems are never simple. Ideally local writers would be funded to write children’s books in their mother tongue and small communities could work on translating foreign children’s books for local kids. Ultimately there would be a diversification of genres available (for example, comics and graphics novels that are equal parts entertaining and educational) and an increase in the volume of books available to children. The practicalities of these suggestions are often difficult but the World Literacy Foundation is working toward the greater community involvement in education that is at the core of these suggestions.


Schoolwork is vital to the education of children in all corners of the world, but the availability of high-quality, interesting, age-appropriate literature for children OUTSIDE the classroom is absolutely crucial to the development of a passion for reading and learning.

by Madeline Smith