On the 23rd of April, World Book Day, reports appeared in the Mexican press to the effect that in terms of reading, Mexico has not improved much in the last few years: in 2006, the average number of books read per person per year was 2.6 and in the survey from 2012, the average was 2.94, according to the data obtained by the reading survey, Encuesta Nacional de Lectura (ENL) (National Reading Survey) of the Fundación Mexicana para el Fomento de la Lectura (Mexican Foundation for Reading Promotion). Equally, the media stressed that in the UNESCO reading index, Mexico occupies the penultimate place among the 108 nations and, again, that Mexicans read 2.8 books per year as well as the fact that there are few libraries and bookshops in the country.
These are certainly important figures which we cannot ignore, but rather than moving us to reflect, they are cited with alarm in the style of the tabloid press. The Mexican Senate, spurred by these results, on the same day, April 23rd, decided to create La Comisión de Fomento a la Lectura (The Commission for Reading Promotion) with a senator for each parliamentary group, an initiative which will join others such as the National Reading Programme (2001) Programa Nacional de Lectura (2001) (National Reading Programme) of the Ministry of Education and the Programa Nacional de Salas de Lectura (National Programme for Reading Groups) of the CONACULTA (PNSL) that has been functioning for twenty years.
However, on reviewing the “First Report” of the 2012 ENL Survey we note that in the “Methodology” it indicates that the population surveyed were people over the age of 12 that are able to read and write, therefore excluding from the study an important group: Mexico’s children.
While children were not surveyed, the participants were asked about their own childhood reading habits, for example, if when they were little they read on their own or with their parents’ support. The resulting figures show the importance that these two activities have on the formation of readers.
Another fact from the survey that we would like to highlight is that young people between 12 and 17 read more books than any other age groups, which shows that the situation among this age group is not as alarming as the media has made out: 61.1% acknowledges that they are reading books (Figure 4, ENL 2012), and in “Reading Preferences”, 36.8% said they chose books over newspapers or magazines (Figure 6).
So, as we have noted, children were not included in the Survey and the media has not made it clear that young Mexicans between 12 and 17 like books and ARE READING. The front page of newspapers scream out that we have failed in the efforts to disseminate and promote reading, but what the ENL is really showing us is that the preference for reading declines or is lost with age. Perhaps what we need now is to work with the same tenacity and creativity with adults rather than neglecting those who turn 18. We know that life is hard in this country and that many people must abandon their studies and with them, their relationship with textbooks, but we must imagine other roads that could be opened. If we have managed to encourage the habit of reading in childhood, it is harder for it to be lost, and this also invites us to strengthen and improve our work in this area. Perhaps here is the answer to the question posed by reading promoters, teachers and parents who are worried because their task of encouraging reading among the children does not seem to have borne fruit. This is not true, changes have occurred, their efforts have been valuable and made important inroads.
This very brief analysis makes us think that we should be more careful when we talk about the results of the Survey, it is important to reflect on them and to work on the weaker areas without brushing aside the good news.
One of the results of our own study, “Reading Changes”, indicates that between 1992 and 2014, the amount of books read or at least referred to by students in Secondary schools has increased, among them books considered as children’s and young adult literature stand out, such as Harry Potter or the Hunger Games series. We found evidence that they love reading fantasy given that among the books read for the project, the one they preferred was Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego, even though the novel has more than 200 pages. They told us they would read more if they had access to better books that were more fun to read and more adequate to their age.
Through the “Rivers of Reading”, the participants also noted that reading is an everyday activity, a practice they carry out immediately, without being fully conscious of it, which perhaps makes them feel that they don’t read anything. This daily reading does not appear in the reading surveys, despite its importance.
Another observation that we can make about the Survey data is the scant value that is given to reading at school, that is, to textbooks which are seen with certain suspicion maybe because they are obligatory reading and thus are less valuable or important. Among the results of the ENL there is a question as part of the section “Family influence on developing reading habits” (Figure 2): “When you were a child, did your parents encourage you to read books that were not textbooks?” Given that school texts are what young people have to read, they should be evaluated and improved in terms of content and writing so that they become texts that lead to other reading.
We repeat that it is necessary to carefully review the results provided by the different reports and set aside the alarmist declarations with the aim of favouring reflection and evaluation of the reading programmes carried out in Mexico without dismissing them completely.
“De la penumbra a la oscuridad…” Encuesta Nacional de Lectura 2012. Primer Informe. Fundación Mexicana para el Fomento de la Lectura A.C. http://www.educacionyculturaaz.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ENL_2012.pdf