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Nairn McDonald

03 June 2015

Last week, I had the great honour of speaking to Neil Mathers, Save the Children’s Head of Scotland, about their latest campaign, Read On Get On, which aims to promote and encourage child literacy, and also SYP’s current campaign POVERTY: See It Change It.

Save The Children’s Read On Get On campaign aims to have all children able to read well by the age of 11, and looks at three specific aspects to achieve this: policy, attitudes, and behaviours. To support the campaign, the challenge is to promote and encourage ten minutes reading a day, but the important aspect is that it must be for enjoyment.

I spoke to Neil in depth about the relationship between poverty and literacy levels, and we discussed very interesting and important points. A child growing up in a socio-economically deprived area is much more likely not to be able to read well by the age of 11 (or primary 7 level). The impact of this doesn’t just extend to the educational aspects one might immediately consider. As children, we pick up much of our vocabulary from what we read, but more importantly, what we read and are actually able to comprehend. So a child that doesn’t have those literacy skills may find the social aspects of life difficult. Crucially, we mustn’t forget the importance of comprehension in literacy: a child could be a very competent reader, i.e they can recognise sounds and patterns and read the words, but if they don’t understand the words, the process is defunct.

When speaking about the impact literacy has on later life, it can be severe – children not reading well by age 11 can be playing catch up for the rest of their lives. We know from current research that children living in poverty often preform worse in school than their peers. We also know that many link poverty and eduction together, believing that a good and comprehensive education could be an effective way to tackle poverty by providing children and young people with the skills to escape what can seem like the never ending poverty cycle.

We also spoke about the part teachers can play. In current times, it is common place for a teacher to set homework by saying; “Go online and research this topic or play this game etc.” Now to may of us, this would be simple: we would go home and do it, but for a young person living in poverty, who doesn’t have access to internet or a computer, this can be a difficult challenge. As Neil said, the occasional time where the child needs to find a friend’s computer to use or go to the library isn’t a huge deal, but we both agreed that when it starts being once a week or more it becomes a penalising factor. The same goes for basic materials, never mind trips or additional costs. We need stop penalising children in schools for not having the required resources, and failing to recognise that maybe buying these resources would mean a cut somewhere else in that week’s budget.

When I asked Neil about the political interest in tackling poverty, he said that in their experience in Scotland, it was very much at the top of our political agenda thanks to the work of all our partners and our own campaigns. However, the story couldn’t be more different at a UK level. Neil said it was a “tough job” to keep it at the top of Westminster’s agenda.

Neil then gave a message of support for our campaign saying: “It’s vital that organisations like Save the Children and the Scottish Youth Parliament, and also young people in general, draw attention to the huge impact of poverty, but also the factors that cause poverty so that we can try to stop the future young people from suffering the effects of poverty.”

I would like to urge all MSYPs and young people to get behind Save the Children’s campaign to get all young people and children to read for at least 10 minutes a day. Take some quirky pictures like I have, and encourage everyone you know to read more and to support others to read more too. I have always enjoyed reading. It offers me an escape from the world around me and allows me to feel free even in the most stressful situations. From Dickens to Clinton, from Clinton to Shakespeare, you would be hard pressed to find an author that I couldn’t find a book I like from. My love of reading is as much to do with circumstance as it is personal choice. My nana is a huge reader and she watched me a lot when I was young when both my parents were working, so reading was drummed into me at an early stage, and I thank her for it now.

To end, I want to quote the best singer of all time and one of my favourite artists, Frank Sinatra, and nicely summarise what I have for Save the Children and SYP’s individual campaigns: “He’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes, he’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes.”

Nairn McDonald MSYP