A lot of valuable work is already being carried out in Finland to promote literacy and reading skills.
Kindergartens, schools and educational institutions play an important role in promoting literacy. The new curricula emphasize multiliteracy competence, with the foundation being built in the early childhood education and care. Libraries, actors in the cultural fields and various organizations are performing a great deal. Parents, grandparents and families play a significant role in the development of positive attitudes and the foundation of literacy.
However, signals regarding literacy and people’s willingness to read are showing polarizing tendencies, and this is a worrying development.
In the beginning of the millennium, Finland was one of the leading countries regarding studies on reading literacy. One of the special characteristics of Finnish young people that sets them apart in all groups of students is their high performance. However, the number of students that exhibit poor reading skills has increased, while that of top readers has decreased. The literacy level of people less than 25 years of age is lower than that of a decade ago.
Students’ background factors and attitudes increasingly determine their literacy level. The decrease in the reading literacy level is particularly pronounced in boys with parents of a lower education level and few cultural interests at home. Girls also reported that they read clearly more than boys. In Finland, the gap in literacy between boys and girls was widest in the OECD countries, in favour of girls. Parents play an important role in children’s literacy, before the time children learn to read. However, only one fourth of Finnish parents read for their children.
For all nine grades of basic education in Finland, the national core curriculum includes guidelines for teaching reading in school subject ‘mother tongue and literature’. The general objective of the national core curriculum for mother tongue and literature is that students become active and responsible communicators and readers.
The National literacy forum reacts to growing differences between the students
Until recently, there has not been a national strategic plan to promote reading for pleasure in Finland. As a reaction to the growing differences between the students, the government took a step in 2017 to establish a national forum to tackle the issue and provide suggestions for the decision-makers and other actors.
The National Literacy Forum has been seeking solutions to developing young people’s literacy competence and interest in reading. The Forum’s members include a great number of reading and literacy experts: researchers, authors, civil servants, teachers, civil society leaders, cultural agents, publishers, library professionals, etc.
The Forum organizes a campaign to promote reading motivation at schools, by using all the best practices shared in the Forum (such as author visits and celebrities). Schools are the channel to reach out to as many children as possible through regular morning assemblies and read-aloud sessions.
However, the main outcomes of the Forum are expected to be political guidelines rather than tangible actions. The guidelines comprise of proposals for correcting aversive developments in the development of the interest in reading and literacy and for ensuring that all children and young people have a sufficient literacy for continuous learning and active life.
Work aiming to promote literacy and interest in reading and to create opportunities for reading is being carried out on wide-ranging basis, across administrative and sectoral boundaries. The starting point for developing literacy and enthusiasm for reading is to capture the interest of children and young people. To awaken this interest, cooperation is needed between all those who work with children and young people in their daily lives.
Guidelines for developing children’s and young people’s literacy and enthusiasm for reading
1. We will encourage children and young people to read
Literacy is the foundation of all learning. Children’s and young people’s interest in reading has declined. Reading must be made part of the changing everyday lives of children and young people; it must be part of their early childhood education and care, schooling and leisure time.
2. We will encourage communities to actively support reading
The extent to which children and young people read, and the way their literacy competence and enthusiasm for reading develop, is strongly influenced by family, friends and leisure-time activities, as well as their school and early childhood education and care.
3. We will enhance skills and cooperation among professionals
The basic education and training provided for professionals working with children and young people lay the foundation for the skills and motivation of such professionals. To promote literacy and interest in reading, it will be necessary to ensure methodical and multiprofessional cooperation, continuous competence development across sectoral boundaries and a learning environment mentality
4. We will create structures to promote reading
An excellent level of literacy is a matter of pride for Finland and is vital for future success. Long-term commitment beyond individual government terms and systematic guidance and support are prerequisites for improving literacy and interest in reading in a rapidly changing operating environment.
Worrying trends of Finnish reading habits http://www.lukukeskus.fi/pisa/