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Ontario students score high in reading proficiency, but don’t like to read for pleasure, report finds

There is good news and bad news in a report released today by the advocacy group People for Education. Entitled Reading for Joy, the study found that students in Ontario are competitive in their reading skills compared with students at similar grade levels around the world, but the number of students who read for pleasure is decreasing.

According to the report, in 1998-99, 76 per cent of Ontario students in Grade 3 reported that they “like to read.” As of 2010-11, that number dropped to 50 per cent. The percentage of Grade 6 students who reported enjoying reading also dropped, from 65 per cent to 50 per cent.

The key concern underlying the numbers is that reading for pleasure is an indicator not just of literacy, but of academic success across the board, and of a student’s willingness to pursue lifelong learning.

A press release about the report quotes Groundwood Books’ CEO Patsy Aldana, who expresses concern about the implications behind the findings:

“If reading scores are going up at the expense of children’s acquiring a love of reading we need to be very concerned. I hope policy makers take this as a wake up call. There is a danger that we have forgotten the important and fundamental role public education has to play in our society “ that of creating critical, thinking, empathetic citizens who have all the tools required to tackle the huge challenges that lie ahead. Loving to read is the most important gift we can give our children.”

An article in The Globe and Mail points to an increase in the culture of distraction created by the Internet and social media as partly responsible for the decline, although the same article suggests that Internet use may have a positive effect on teenagers’ reading:

Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education, who hadn’t read the report, found these factors were more likely to blame than the push for better literacy scores.

I don’t think schools are turning students off reading, I just think there are a lot more distractions than there were a generation ago, she said.

Teenagers are in fact likely reading more than they ever have before. They spend their free time online, posting to Facebook and Twitter, and texting friends. International surveys by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have found that these behaviours are positively linked to reading proficiency.