Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Teaching people to read in the electronic age

As someone who needs to read as much as she needs to breathe, I find it scandalous that our government allows so many children to drift through the school system without ever learning the magic of reading and writing. I have seen estimates that in England one person in every five is “functionally illiterate”, able to cope with only the smallest, simplest words. These people are tragic outcasts, cut off from understanding information the rest of us take for granted, like gas bills, letters from the children’s school, or diversion signs on the roads. I used to teach reading and writing to adults, and I know the courage it takes to turn up to a class and admit to ignorance.

So I was interested to see a recent call for authors to write stories for unskilled readers to be released in Kindle format, stories targeted at adults, that they could read in privacy, at their own pace. Great idea, but someone who is scared of reading - and reluctant to admit it - is never going to buy an electronic reader, however much they come down in price.

Before they progress to an e-reader, why not teach people to read on the ubiquitous iPad? There are quite a few iPad apps available for teaching children to read and write by playing around with words, but I haven’t found the equivalent for adults.

The person who could invent such an app would never become rich, but he would earn the heartfelt thanks of one in five of the population.

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