Ways to boost national reading movement

Singapore wanting to encourage reading is a good idea ("Big push to kindle love of reading"; April 12).

According to a Progress In International Reading Literacy Study analysis I did with Dr Elizabeth Loh Ka Yee of the University of Hong Kong, Singapore is one of several countries that fall into what we call the "test prep" group: High reading test scores and low levels of poverty overall, but neither children nor parents report that they like to read.

Our conjecture was that the high test scores were the result of a lot of reading of school texts, and extensive test preparation, or "gaming the test".

Some of the proposals made by the National Reading Movement for encouraging reading have no basis in research and are, in fact, contradictory to what is known about encouraging reading.

These include proclaiming a national reading day, setting up book clubs and getting people to make a pledge that they will read more. The last initiative will only result in making people feel guilty that they were not able to live up to their promises.

Other proposals are well supported by research, such as ensuring that potential readers have access to interesting reading material, for example, setting up reading corners in community centres and making sure new communities have a library.

Access in the form of libraries is especially crucial in high poverty areas, where the only source of books is often the library. Access is the prerequisite for reading.

The National Reading Movement also plans to make electronic material available to commuters.

Unfortunately, this will consist of material pre-selected for those riding on trains or buses.

Unless many options are made available, this plan runs counter to research showing that self-selection is crucial to voluntary reading.

Given access to truly interesting and comprehensible reading material, most people will read. Reading can become a "positive addiction", so pleasurable that we do not have to urge people to read or make them promise that they will read.

Finally, we have to take a harder look at schools, and make sure that younger children are read to from interesting storybooks, that school libraries are well stocked with interesting reading material and staffed by credentialled librarians, and that time is set aside for free reading in school.

These have all been demonstrated to be strong predictors, not only of reading achievement but also of interest in reading.

Stephen Krashen

Professor Emeritus

University of Southern California

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Ways to boost national reading movement'. Print Edition | Subscribe