“A reader lives a thousand lives. Someone who doesn’t read only lives one.” George R.R. Martin
I was saddened to hear in a radio discussion last week that approximately 40% of prisoners are functionally illiterate. I was shocked that this reflects an educational system that must have been incapable, over many different governments and decades, to enable pupils to leave school able to read. If one takes the message of the quotation above, this leaves each of those individuals with only one life rather than with the possibility of living many different lives. It leaves them stuck, often in a background with few advantages, without the ability to perceive the options available to them to start a different way of living. We are letting them down.
Prisoners who can’t read are unlikely to get a job. If they don’t find work it is 90% more likely that they will re-offend, which is likely to cause harm to those against whom he or she re-offends, represents a personal loss of freedom, and is a huge cost to the taxpayer. Reading is a key that opens up opportunity.
So this got me thinking about reading and whose responsibility it is to raise the level of literacy. Of course reading is taught in school and is the business of government and the Department of Education but it also needs to be encouraged in the home. It is the responsibility of all those raising a child – teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – to encourage and help that child to master this essential life skill.
It isn’t always easy to motivate a child to read but in my experience the earlier one makes it a part of daily life the more easily it becomes a habit. I have always been a bookworm, as was my mother. From an early age I have lost myself in magical worlds, adventures, and ideas. I feel I have lived in different countries, taking on the lives of the characters I was reading about, whether in Russia, Africa, Peru or on another planet. Each new chapter opened my mind to new ways of life and perceptions beyond those I had been taught at school.