March 4, 2024

The sample size of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) report on reading comprehension among 9- and 10-year-old children around the globe (about 400,000) offers a reasonable guarantee of reliability. After the significant advance of 15 points of Spanish children five years ago, in 2016, the recently published data for 2021 on 10,000 children indicate a decline of seven points, partly due to the effects of the pandemic on school enrollment and the closures of the schools. Despite this, Spain is above the average compared to other countries with similar characteristics, with some notable anomalies, such as the Principality of Asturias, which exceptionally appears well above the European and Spanish average, in the same way that the demographic and sociocultural uniqueness of Ceuta and Melilla explains the need to redouble efforts in the face of disproportionately below-average results.

The most relevant conclusions of the report concern qualitative factors rather than quantitative ones, and there are basically two of them: in houses where reading is done regularly, children read more and better, and socioeconomic bias is decisive in reducing reading competence. Among the encouraging data is the reduction of the gender gap (girls no longer read more than boys), but the worst of all is the perpetuation of the difference in social class. It is there where the public authorities must fine-tune their analytical instruments and their ability to compensate for the structural deficits of broad social sectors, often without being aware that this instrument —the aptitude, speed, and quality of reading— will become the future. in a cause of professional and vital discrimination. Families may not know that the only way to improve reading comprehension is assiduous, routine and joyful practice, but the State does. It is the administrations that must intervene in the most adverse contexts to compensate for this deficit. Expensive measures such as halving the number of students per class in poorer social environments are actually future investments aimed at mitigating social inequality.

The screens are not the problem. They function as a necessary instrument of socialization to manage in adolescence and youth. The ability and power of reading are also, and that is where a State policy must be able to identify the deficiencies that encourage 10-year-old children to still read with their finger glued to the paper (or to the screen): prevent that scene that was common and extensive 100 years ago persists today is a collective obligation. Our children had never read as much as in recent years, but much of this literature does not and cannot reach everyone without the help of a State policy that attacks inequality of opportunity at its source.

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