OPINION: Libraries change lives – the story of our schools

OPINION: Libraries change lives – the story of our schools

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.


OPINION: Libraries change lives – the story of our schools

OPINION: Literacy crisis is the greatest threat to our children after Covid-19

OPINION: Literacy crisis is the greatest threat to our children after Covid-19

Over the Easter Weekend The Times ran an article Boris Johnson fears Lockdown illiteracy surge reporting the number of children struggling with literacy, as a result of lockdown learning, is rising by 30,000 over the past year.

If that’s not shocking enough, according to unpublished government figures revealed this week, more than 200,000 primary school pupils could make the transition to secondary school without the adequate literacy skills for their age. Many will not be able to read properly. It’s reported this will be Boris Johnson’s top priority after the coronavirus vaccination programme. The Government is expected to unveil a new four-year ‘emergency plan’ in May as a direct response. This could include after-school and holiday clubs as well as small group tutoring. But is manpower enough to solve this?

The solution is digital learning

It’s estimated that English students have lost more than 800 million teaching hours due to the pandemic. While those hours cannot be recouped instantly, independent digital learning can play a huge part in supporting the nation’s primary school pupils. As founder and CEO of Auris Tech – voice tech for literacy in the UK and English language learning, I understand the vital role technology plays in our schools. You can reach more children with technology. There’s no way reading can get back on track without it. Technology is the greatest way to reach people – as a leveller.

And the pandemic has proved that. Not just in education and the academic sector but in business in general. You only have to ask business leaders who led the IT strategy in their company? Was it their Chief Tech Officers, CEO or Covid-19? The answer will be the latter. Collaboration tools have supported businesses globally throughout this pandemic. Zoom has become a verb as well as one of the most used apps in lockdown, (increasing its profits by 400 percent*) with Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Google Classrooms being other go-to functions to keep schools and businesses connected. The digital realm has been a life-line and it will continue to be for many years to come.

If digital platforms are the foundation of future learning, smart technology applications are the perfect partners to guarantee success. Digital learning with smart AI and safe technology is a recipe for success. It provides a level playing field to all pupils, not just those within a radius of a school ranked as ‘excellent’. Schools simply don’t have the people power to offer 121 tuition for every child without technology. Accessibility is key to learning and indeed to literacy. The Government has made a massive in road to schools with technology but they need to install the right smart tech to guarantee success. The Hungry Little Minds campaign is just one example of this.

Reading is a foundation to learning. It’s a building block for every other academic subject and it’s essential in providing key skills for life. Confidence in our children is at an all time low as a result of the pandemic. Many children have had limited verbal interaction with their peers and these communicative skills can all be boosted through independent digital learning, as can vital life skills. Children are very comfortable with technology. Primary school pupils in particular are digitally native and expect technology to play a part in their lives.

Connecting communities

Throughout the pandemic there have been some fantastic initiatives that promote independent digital learning. MBE Oli Barrett’s ‘Turn On The Subtitles’ campaign is just one example that encourages subliminal reading and showing the power of digital intervention. Turning on the subtitles while children are watching television can double the chances of a child improving their literacy. One simple step that can make a huge impact.

The BBC’s ‘Equipment For Schools’ campaign has also offered a life-line to learning across the country during the pandemic.

Schools have relied on support from businesses to keep them connected throughout lockdowns. Whether it’s providing devices, technology support and expertise or by sponsoring subscriptions to educational apps like Fonetti, there’s no doubt how smart tech and independent digital learning has played a huge part in lockdown learning. It’s now down to the Government to invest in the right AI and smart tech to complement this initial foundation for schools to build on for the next four years. And we at Auris Tech will be ready to take their call.