For a country with some of the highest literacy rates in the world, New Zealand still has its fair share of challenges. Challenges that exist beyond the 43% of adult New Zealanders who have literacy skills below those needed to fully participate in a knowledge society.
You see, literacy is more than just an ability to read and write. Those two skills are a prerequisite to a whole array of skills that allow us to function, and succeed, in society. Skills such as communication, teamwork and creativity are all fostered at their core by basic reading and writing skills. This is why even as a young person growing up in a country with some of the most enviable literacy rates in the world, I know there is still work to do.
However there is more, add in to the mix that kids of all ages are spending less and less time reading. In households across much of the developed world, including New Zealand, apps and games are replacing the book. That is not to say that those respective pass times don’t have some positive influence on children, but it is almost inarguable that they do not contribute to the basic but crucial literacy skills to the same degree as reading.
So what are the consequences of all this?
Well it is certainly not something that we are going to notice overnight, or even a few years. But it may be the case that over time a generation grows up lacking some of the basic communication, creativity and wider literacy skills that are so crucial to function in the societies we have built.
In fact, the skills that may be slowly disappearing are likely to be the very skills that become more important than ever in the online 21st century world we are creating. With stock standard jobs fast disappearing it is people’s adaptability, emotional intelligence and (dear I say it) communication and creative skills that is going to allow people to flourish.
The skills that are disappearing are the very skills that are becoming ever so valuable in the 100 mile per hour culture we are heading towards.
Yet despite this, it’s not all doom and gloom. We are resilient creatures at our core and there is always something we can do. For those of us in the book industry it is not our job to fight the evitable trends of our time, as going against the tide of technological change is only going to speed up the consequences mentioned above.
Children are looking at screens, the world is going digital, everything is being gamified; these are the facts of the time we live in. Yet there is tremendous value and good to be extracted even when working within these parameters.
For example, the rise of audio books and e-books show tremendous innovation within the book industry, and may pave the way for a solution to the literacy problems that we face.
As a book publisher myself, we put a massive emphasis on developing a book that was as fun as it was educational. Though still a hard copy the book was gamified, developing incredible engagement with kids who saw it as an activity, not a chore. You see, we cannot work against the trends of how our young people are consuming content. But we can use the trends tackle some of the bubbling problems that may drastically alter the way our upcoming generations communicate and operate within this fast changing 21st century society.