The question of creating a culture of reading runs through every English Teacher’s mind and every Literacy Coordinator throughout the Education System.

Reading is obviously vital to gain an education but unfortunately this can create a feeling of reading as just being homework. If we only read that which our teachers ask us to, then our experience of discovery is stifled. If we are made to read, as it is deemed to be a good thing to do, then this is negative.

All English Specialists enjoy reading and want to share this passion with their students. However, teachers are held in a straight jacket of books to be taught and not necessarily books that would target the interests of the students in their classroom.

The modern world is making reading a traditional book something that is deemed “old hat”. The birth of E-readers has seen books presented in a digital manner. This can be a good way to engage young people.

However, the distractions on modern devices are tempting our young minds away from a good story that requires a build-up, and an investment in time towards the quick fix of gratification through online games, social media, and text messaging. The world is fast-paced, and the Internet does not stand still.

We are addicted to our phones and the urge to keep up with all the latest news and innovations takes us away from a past-time that is presented at a much slower pace.

Our environment is vital to our attitude to reading.

If a child has no access to books at home and does not have role models who read for pleasure, then this consolidates this activity as something that you must do at school. If you are not exposed to different styles of writing, then how can you understand the rules of the written word? If you can digitally search for information within seconds, why does it even matter?

Everywhere we go, the written word provides a code. If you are trying to find a particular place, then you will encounter road signs.

There are information posters and rules that we must access within society. If you want to read the news, a letter, or an important document, then you need to be able to read and decode the written word. As far back as 13,000 BC, there is evidence that cavemen wanted to communicate in writing. Carvings of pictorial stories have been discovered. The Egyptians produced the first alphabet when they designed their hieroglyphics. There is a need to communicate through symbols and writing and not just through the spoken word.

If we do not expose ourselves to the written word, how do we expect to stay literate? How do we expect to be able to make an intelligent contribution to our changing world?

We must teach our children not to always seek instant gratification and that it is worth engaging with all different types of media including the art of stories and poetry. We must give them a chance to seek information and to seek to discover new things.

Personally, I have tried reading a book digitally and nothing beats the feel of a new hardback book in your hand.  But I am old-school and if the only way to engage our children is through a digital platform, then so be it.

However, they need role models who show them that it is worth snuggling up on the sofa with a good book. If creativity is not their thing, then they should have access to factual books that take their interest. If finance is a restraint, then we must find a way to overcome this barrier to opportunity. We cannot afford to raise a generation of young people who have limited vocabulary and skills. We must believe that our young people will be mobilised to share a culture of reading and discovery in the metaverse!

I do not expect time to stand still but we must continue to build a nation of literate and proactive citizens.

— Victoria Burns