OPINION: Libraries change lives – the story of our schools
In her open letter to Boris Johnson last week, children’s laureate, Cressida Cowell issued a rallying cry for government investment of £100 million in our school libraries. Her letter, backed by Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Sir Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman OBE, also reveals shocking statistics that one in eight primary schools in the UK has no library – something that is statutory in every prison.
Can you remember your first library experience? For some it’s rhyme time as a toddler, for others it’s visits to a mobile library van or a huge inner-city library overflowing with shelves full of stories and adventures. And you’d expect most children to feel comfortable reaching for a book in their primary school library too – if their school had one, that is.
Life-changing Libraries Project
We know all too well the impact the pandemic has had on literacy, particularly in primary school-aged children. What is even more apparent is the ‘vast inequality in current primary school library provision’ as a result of economics and geography:
“…schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals were more than twice as likely not to have access to a designated library space.
These children from the poorest communities will be the most impacted, with reports such as from the Sutton Trust warning that they are going to fall further behind. It is these children, and their families, whose voices are not always heard, and I am using my platform as Waterstones Children’s Laureate to speak out on their behalf. This is not something that can wait. We must act now.”
Cowell demands a level playing field for all children, created by ring-fenced funding for school libraries of £100 million. This would boost physical space, expertise and fund vital stock, the equivalent of one new book a year for each child. Where budget has been allocated directly to primary schools for physical education since 2013, sadly the investment in literacy is incomparable. Reading is life-changing and it’s essential changes are made.
And that’s exactly how our platform began
When one in nine children doesn’t have access to a book, but does have access to a tablet… where 200,000 UK children leave primary school EACH YEAR without reaching their expected level of reading, and where 1 in 8 schools don’t have a library (yet its a legal requirement in prison), it’s clear that technology needs to play its part in supporting literacy, alongside traditional libraries.
Fonetti was founded to make reading accessible to all children, regardless of demographic, and to make reading fun for children who found words on a page a challenge, whether through dyslexia or SEND, or simply because stories were yet to make an impact in their world.
How we interact with stories hasn’t changed. Throughout evolution our ancestors have relied on the power of stories and our brains are hard-wired to recognise stories as a medium. Yet the way we access stories has changed. Not all children grow up hearing tales told orally, or via the page. Technology plays a huge part and the gaming generation is less au-fait with fiction than with screen-based adventures, switching stories, quite literally, for screens.
Before children can enjoy the rich treasures of a library, they need to already love books
And technology can bridge this gap. For children who love the fast-paced artificial realities of their screens, Fonetti uses gamification that induces a responsible level of dopamine to make reading fun. Children read aloud, independently, from an ever-evolving library of listening books ™, one that’s accessible to all who have access to a tablet and wi-fi. Accredited by the Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds Campaign as the only approved platform for children to practise their reading, Fonetti is changing the lives of primary school children across the country in schools that have subscribed, or been gifted a subscription, to our library. So, we feel a huge affinity with Cressida’s ‘Life-changing Libraries Project’ here at Fonetti HQ.
All children should have the same chances
Literacy changes lives. From research conducted in 2019, The National Literacy Trust and Nottingham Trent University found that ‘children using their school library were more likely to read for pleasure and had better reading and writing attitudes – this difference was especially marked for those eligible for free school meals.’ Literacy should not be a currency reserved for the wealthy – our society relies on a level playing field for our children, so they can make informed decisions in their futures.
Confidence is a gift. The confidence to read is a power. One that can only be achieved if screen time is normalised and book poverty has no place in a post-pandemic landscape. Literacy is in demand more than ever before. At Auris Tech we fully support the Life-Changing Libraries Project, Cressida Cowell and BookTrust and remain dedicated to boosting literacy and bridging the gap between technology and tales in primary education throughout the UK.