As we have written on several occasions, education is the door to a better society. For education to be effective, reading is essential. Therefore, reading is the key that clears the way.
With this premise in mind, we decided on this occasion to highlight the work of a group of people who are working to implement reading as a fundamental basis for the progress of Argentine society.
But, before going into details, we consider that it is important to have a background.
Let’s start by situating ourselves a little.
The Argentine Republic is organized as a decentralized federal state. Since 1994 it is composed of twenty-three provinces and an autonomous city (Buenos Aires).
It is a member of Mercosur (a bloc that was founded in 1991 and established a free trade zone and common tariff agreements, as well as various mechanisms for productive complementation and economic, social, and cultural integration), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, an intergovernmental mechanism for dialogue and political coordination), and the Organization of American States (OAS, a regional and continental organization created in April 1948 to be a political forum for decision-making, multilateral dialogue and integration of the Americas).
By 2020, Argentina was positioned as the country with Latin America’s second-highest Human Development Index (HDI). Argentina’s economy is the second most developed and important in South America.
In terms of education, the law establishes that public spending on education should not be less than 6% of GDP, with a literacy rate of over 15 years of age of over 99%.
The problem is easy to mention but very complicated to solve. In Argentina, three out of four young people do not have adequate reading comprehension, that is, they do not understand what they read.
Some of the difficulties that students encounter today prevent them from prioritizing the information provided by a text, from reflecting on the type of narrator or the characteristics of the characters.
Unfortunately, we are part of a society where there is a tendency towards comfort and, to a certain extent, indolence, where the maxim is to look for what makes our lives easier, makes everything simpler, and costs us the least possible effort, imagination has less and less room. Imagining requires thinking, and thinking requires effort.
Solkes: How is the educational situation in Argentina?
Fundación Leer: It is complex and this has repercussions on the data we have today, which are alarming. The problem is really serious. The PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) studies still show that 50 percent of the young people who graduate from the educational system do not understand what they read. Or recently, a report by “Argentinos por la educación” (Argentines for education) came out which states that 43 out of every 100 students reach the last year of primary school on time and achieve the expected learning in language. This shows that in the future as a country we are going to have great difficulties unless the situation changes. Because these are the leaders and voters we will have in a very short time.
In Argentina, 24.7% of students at the primary level are in the basic levels or below in Language. In the Aprender operation, at the national level, between 2018 and 2021 the percentage of primary students with good results in Lengua went from 75.3% to 56.0%.
The national results show that, among students from low socioeconomic strata, only 28.9 achieve a good performance in Language and 31.9 in Mathematics (Aprender 2021).
Secondary school students living in poverty represent 40.4% of the total. Of them, only 14% achieved a good performance in Language and Mathematics (Observatorio Argentinos por la Educación, August 2022).
Solkes: Why is reading comprehension so low in Argentina?
Fundación Leer: There is no single answer. Multiple factors have an impact on learning to read, linked to the socio-economic conditions of families, the vulnerability of populations -which affects access to the necessary resources for education-, the differences in the reading experiences of boys and girls when they enter school, and the unequal access to books. For example, we can think that those children who have literate families with access to books and regular contact with written culture will have a different schooling and learning experience than those who lack this environment and opportunities. Moreover, in Argentina, the pandemic has deepened existing differences.
We have abandoned the best instrument of a culture, of a society, that allows us to become free men and women, with critical discernment, with imagination; reading.
We are not even talking about reading the great classics of literature, or good writers of today, why should we do so when we are offered substitutes that top the sales lists as false autobiographies of mediocre television characters that they have not even written themselves, or stupid books that are sold as self-help.
Many of the world’s problems can be addressed through the same solution: education.
Why? Because knowing how to read and understand what one reads allows people to access knowledge and develop themselves. The written word is the door to knowledge.
Without a solid base in reading skills, children will have difficulties in their education, they will live in poverty, their potential will be wasted and they will not be able to integrate into society completely.
Solkes: How long ago was the foundation created and why was it created?
Fundación Leer: Fundación Leer was created with a single mission, to fight for a literate Argentina. Since 1997 it has been dedicated to the creation and implementation of programs to help all children to have access to books, to read, and to value reading. It was created because its Director, Patricia Mejalelaty, as a history professor and teacher, realized that reading is at the core of the whole educational process. And if the children do not understand what they read or do not read, it will be impossible for them to continue studying. They will not even be able to become active citizens in a world where literacy is the ABC of human existence today.
Various barriers prevent young people from accessing the reading skills they need to succeed in school. These include a lack of access to books and pleasant environments in schools and homes.
Sometimes there are no teachers who implement strategies based on educational research and reading models in the homes where children grow up.
Solkes: What has been the easiest and hardest thing so far?
Fundación Leer: Easy is not easy at all. It can be said that the easiest thing is to find teachers committed to changing reality, and willing to work to improve education, as well as the social organizations we work with. Everything is always easier in a team. Difficult situations are always linked to the social, political, and economic situation of the country. Regarding the situation of the teachers, some provinces have fewer classes because there are measures to force the salaries, and the conditions of many public schools are not the best to teach. The lack of resources in many schools leads teachers to deal with issues that exceed their teaching duties. The situation of families in more vulnerable contexts. All this causes the programs we implement to be affected and has repercussions on children’s education.
For this reason, Fundación Leer focuses its strategy on intervening in key and systemic aspects of the literacy process of children from their early childhood and elementary school.
We aspire to have an impact on the lives of millions of children in our country and to contribute to revert the lack of reading and writing skills of those who are in a social risk situation.
Within this framework, we focus on the aspects with the greatest impact on the formation of autonomous and competent readers and writers: early childhood and elementary school.
What they want to achieve
There is no time to read, it requires too much effort, we opt for the easy way, sitting in front of the TV or reading a newspaper, or playing a game on the cell phone, which is not bad, but let’s not fool ourselves, it is not the same thing. People are reading less and less, and reading is getting worse and worse.
The foundation wants children in Argentina to have access to a quality education that allows them to reach their full potential and contribute to society as a whole.
They work to achieve a society in which children are enthusiastic about reading and see it as a source of pleasure, education, information, and inspiration. So that they can develop their creative thinking about their context and the world around them and can transmit their ideas.
Since 1997, they have been working under a licensing agreement with Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (the oldest and largest non-profit children’s literacy organization in the United States) to operate their projects in Argentina. These programs were adapted to the reality of our country.
Working together with teachers and communities all over the country, we support the development of reading habits and literacy skills in children, key aspects for their school success and their present and future development.
Solkes: How is the work with Reading is fundamental?
Fundación Leer: At the moment of creating the Foundation, we looked for a project that already existed, we did not want to reinvent the wheel, and we came to an entity in the United States, at a time when there was no Internet, no emails, nothing. It took three years of work to be able to bring the license of this entity to Argentina, which is called Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. although we continue working with all their principles, the foundation has already created many other programs and projects that are developed all over the country. We have a great relationship with them, and we work with the same principles, adapting them to the context and the specific situations of our country.
Solkes: What still needs to be achieved?
Fundación Leer: A lot. There are still children who do not have access to books, and therefore to reading situations at home.
Research affirms that a child who does not read fluently before the age of nine will have reading problems throughout his life. Reading automaticity is at the foundation of reading fluency.
For children to understand what they read, they must mechanize their reading.
The foundation is in charge of democratizing reading and making it available to everyone. They work to ensure that children with fewer resources have access to their first books, to promote literacy in the communities and that reading becomes a habit.
Passion for reading
They are a multidisciplinary team with a passion for education.
They are an interdisciplinary team of 15 people. With professionals in the areas of communication, literature, education, linguistics, and specialists in children’s and young people’s literature.
The values of the foundation are transparency, integrity, effectiveness, efficiency, teamwork, innovation, and measurement of results. They mark the path of work and guide our daily actions, under the commitment to live the values to which we adhere.
Solkes: How do you achieve your work?
Fundación Leer: We have a team in the educational area, which generates content for teachers and mediators, trains them in their institutions, which carries out the programs, accompanies them, and measures their results. A logistics area that makes sure that the materials reach institutions all over the country. A fund development area that works with companies and sponsors to finance these programs. A communication and press area that manages and disseminates each of the campaigns aimed at institutions and families. We are also permanently implementing more knowledge in terms of technology and digital tools since we are always looking for new ways to bring boys and girls closer to reading and to provide teachers and families with new tools to help them in new contexts and with the new cultural consumption. As a result, the Foundation has been expanding its programs and campaigns, and creating new digital platforms. For example, during the pandemic, we launched a video game for boys and girls to read more fluently, and now we are about to launch a new digital platform for boys and girls to read, solve reading comprehension games, and score points so that they can become autonomous readers. These are free proposals for teachers and families. We constantly work in alliance with teachers, librarians, directors, supervisors, ministries, and other organizations. Without their participation and commitment, our work could not be carried out.
Reading is one of the cornerstones for the acquisition of knowledge. Reading, reading, is one of the best skills we can acquire. It will accompany us throughout our lives and allow us to acquire knowledge, to understand the world and everything around us. It also allows us to travel anywhere without going anywhere or to be the person we want to be for a moment. Reading opens the doors of knowledge and gives wings to our inspiration and imagination.
Reading as our ally
After two years of transformations marked by the pandemic that continue to leave deep traces in our society, in Argentina, the education gap became visible throughout the country.
In this context, the idea is to work to generate answers to the needs of children, educators, and families who need resources and accompaniment so that boys and girls do not fall behind in their literacy process.
The foundation firmly believes that by expanding opportunities for boys and girls to become literate, to have access to books, and to live positive experiences with reading, they can become creative people, citizens capable of dialoguing in democracy, of asserting their rights.
The pandemic left a certainty: the possibility of adopting virtual environments and resources as well as access to digital books can help thousands of children, teachers, institutions, and families to continue their approach to reading. In this sense, our platform is Leer 20-20.
The challenge continued to grow, the Galactic Readers videogame was a source of learning for early readers from different corners of the country, and the brand new campaign “El Desafío Leer. The Club took its first steps with an innovative proposal.
Thus, as a team, we were able to transform, adapt and create projects according to new requirements and continue working guided by our mission.
The literacy process is a continuum that begins in the first years of life and lasts at least as long as schooling lasts. Being literate means being able to function in a world where written culture is present daily.
To be literate means to read, write, understand, and produce written and oral texts. In this sense, the role of the family and the school are key in this process.
The foundation’s programs have a one-year duration. These programs are developed in institutions and include teacher training, didactic materials to be used with children, and books so that reading becomes a daily practice.
The Foundation’s professionals accompany the work in each institution to ensure that the proposed methodologies are incorporated into daily practice.
To achieve lasting change, collaboration with local authorities, schools, families, and communities is necessary. Without this collaboration, it is impossible to convey the importance of early literacy to children.
Parents, schools, community institutions, and the government as partners can generate a supportive environment to strengthen children’s love for reading and the development of reading skills and competencies both at school and at home.
Solkes: What is the importance of having a society that reads?
Fundación Leer: Reading is essential for learning, but it is also essential for development, understanding reality, exercising freedom, living with greater integrity, for appropriating language, and even better emotional development. Promoting reading in children is key to achieving a more egalitarian society capable of facing future challenges. A child who is trained as a reader will have more resources and will possibly be a citizen more committed to the world around him/her. But children do not come to reading alone. They arrive hand in hand with committed adults who want to help them spread their wings.
Solkes: How do campaigns to make reading part of the public agenda work?
Fundación Leer: We do the National Reading Marathon, which this year is its 21st edition, it is a massive campaign in which last year 4,000,000 children, young people, and adults from all over the country participated. It is a campaign that works because the institutions have already adopted it as their own, beyond Fundación Leer, and that manages to make visible the importance of reading among the children of the country. It achieves a celebration around reading which always excites us.
The National Reading Marathon is joined by the Ministry of Education and the provincial ministries which include it every year in their school calendars.
As a consequence, participation in the marathon increases throughout the country.
The truth is that children and young people must see in the habit of reading the importance of their future. The 21st century needs children, young people, and adults with high levels of literacy, who know how to read and write and have the ability to read all types of texts.
Transforming school libraries into attractive, child-friendly environments with educational materials and age-appropriate books is very important. The moment children have access to interesting books and trained teachers, the result is really good.
A few final words (for the moment)
Does it only remain for us to say that if young people do not develop language correctly and form themselves as readers in an increasingly demanding world, what future awaits them? So, facing challenges requires us to be prepared for what can and will happen.
The written word is the center, the heart of our culture. We must understand reading as a transformative power. Over the last decade one word has been making its way; empower. We need a society and a youth empowered with knowledge, words, books, with ideas.
There are many culprits for this problem. The guilty ones are those responsible for not teaching children to love reading. The guilty ones are a society for not understanding that without the power that reading awakens, we are increasingly poorer, increasingly less free, increasingly less critical, individual, and increasingly more herd. By reading, we acquire the resources to become creative people, capable of dialogue and of defending our rights.