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Culture

The Reluctance to Read

The literary world has its eyes on Frankfurt this week during the world's largest book fair. But who has their eyes on books? Certainly not German children and adolescents -- they simply don't like to read.

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These reading children are more the exception than the rule in Germany

Three years ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Pisa Study found that German students scored below average in reading when compared to their peers in other OECD countries. According to the findings, almost half of 15-year-olds said they never read for their own pleasure.

Yet reading is a crucial part of a child's development, said Doris Schröder-Köpf, the wife of German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and patron of the reading initiative Deutschland liest vor or "Germany reads."

"Many children don't experience reading as something enjoyable and not at all as an exciting journey into their own world," said Schröder-Köpf. For children, reading has simply become a duty performed at school.

Nadia Budde, a children's book author who won Germany's Youth Literature Prize in 2000, agreed. "Reading does not have any significance anymore," Budde told DW-WORLD. "It isn't presented to children as something exciting, neither at school or at home."

A joint effort

The Pisa results certainly shook the German government up. It is now making efforts to reform the country's schools. According to Education Minister Edelgard Bulmahn, the education system has to ensure in its curricula and pedagogical practice that reading competence is adequately encouraged.

It isn't just up to the schools, though. Many parents also need to do their part, said author Budde.

Nadia Budde Oldenburger Kinderbuchpreis

Nadia Budde won Germany's Youth Literature Prize in 2000

In a family's normal daily routine, books would generally appear before bed time. "In most households, though, the most comfortable place at this time is in front of the television and that's where the family sits," she said.

And they usually aren't reading.

Parents don't have time to read

Kinder vor dem Fernseher

Many German families prefer to watch television than read

"The fact that children don't like to read as much anymore is certainly due to the fact that parents, who don't have time, don't read themselves or didn't read when they were young, are not introducing books to their children," said Budde (photo).

The local community can also do its part, though, said Federal Family Minister Renate Schmidt. "If schools, libraries and other extracurricular educational institutions cooperated closely, we could awaken the delight for reading in children and adolescents," she said.

In the last six years, the Family Ministry has spent 6.3 million euro ($7.7 million) to promote reading and literature.

Making life fuller

Germany, a country known for its poets and philosophers, could face a difficult future if nothing is done to counteract children's difficulties in reading. "In many cases, this is linked to problems in school and significant disadvantages later during vocational training," said Schröder-Köpf.

Schmidt said kids had to be shown that reading was not something frustrating, but something that makes you want more.

"Aldous Huxley put it wonderfully: Every person who knows how to read has it in their power to magnify themselves, to multiply the ways in which they exist, to make life full, significant and interesting," she said.

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