martes, 19 de mayo de 2015

Reading and Turkish Adolescents

In this entry we travel from Mexico to Turkey!

We are very pleased to have a guest blogger, Osman Coban, writing about reading in his country and specifically about the reading choices of Turkish adolescents. We think that readers will find it illuminating to compare what is happening in this area in different places around the world. In particular, it is interesting to consider Turkey alongside Mexico, given that they are both considered to be part of the “MINT” emerging economies group (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). However, while it may be true that they are on an upward economic turn, we must not forget that the increasing wealth and advantages do not benefit all the population and that there are still many serious problems and unresolved conflicts in all these countries which affect education and reading, as Osman reminds us in the text below.

Osman is doing his PhD on this topic, at the University of Glasgow, funded by a scholarship from the Turkish Government. Last year he was successful in obtaining one of the IBBY-UK bursaries to attend and present a poster at the IBBY International Congress in Mexico. At the moment, he is “in the field”, collecting data through a variety of methods, working with young people in schools. We are grateful that he managed to find some time to write this blog for us.  

During my primary and middle school term [1975-1985], there was political chaos. There were political events all over the country and if the parents were involved, they used to try to get their children to read political books that were written by the ideological group they agreed with. I was one of the victims of this. I was forced to read some of these books and as a result I was scared of books in my childhood. I had been given some very difficult books to read and to explain but I did not understand anything from the books that I had been reading. Imagine a book about 500  pages long with political terms (...) in front of a child who is in fifth year of primary (...) I hated books (...) I loved reading after I became a teacher. I would read children’s books to the children. I met children’s books after I became a teacher, I didn’t read children’s books when I was a child. After that I loved reading books.

I believe that this Head teacher’s memories about reading represent a brief summary of reading history in Turkey in the second half of the 20th century. Between 1950 and 1990, politics had a significant effect on young readers’ reading habits and choices. In addition, there were only a handful of authors who wrote for children and young people and few translations of children’s and young adult (YA) texts from other countries. The didactic attitude of the authors was a key factor in the construction of these stories.

At the beginning of the 21st century, although the overall literacy rate in Turkey was high (92.9%), only 4% of the population said they read books as part of their daily life. Poverty and conflict have been the other reasons for this low reading rate. Almost half the children in Turkey have to work as well as going to school. In the eastern region of Turkey there has been conflict since 1990, due to a complex political and ethnic situation and Kurdish children in particular have been living under difficult conditions (Robinson, 2010; Yegen, 2006). In addition to household chores, the many of them also have to work as farm labourers during the summer term in different parts of the country. In addition, nearly half the workers in Turkey earn the minimum wage: 949 TL (approximately 360USD) (CSGB, 2015; Sabah, 2012 and it is almost impossible spend any of this money on books because this money is hardly enough for the basic needs of a family. Another reason is the high price of books, as Isfendiyar, who is 17 years old and one of the students in my project, explained.

 So far I have mentioned some of the complex issues related to the Turkish context which have had a negative impact on the reading habits of young readers. However, on the positive side, since 2003 there have been several local and national reading campaigns which have resulted in a noticeable increase in the reading rate of young readers. The Turkish Ministry of Education prepared a list of ‘100 Basic Works’ in 2005 for primary and secondary level to be read before the end of students’ school period (Cotukkesen, 2007). Former president Abdullah Gul and his wife Hayrunnisa Gul launched the ‘Turkey is reading’ campaign in 2008 which promoted reading awareness at a national level through a number of reading events. In schools, every day had to start with 10 minutes of reading. In an event that took place outside schools, people from every age read books in stadiums in different parts of the country to develop reading awareness at a national level and this made an impact on young people as well as adults (The Governorship of Istanbul. 2008, Kılıc, n.d.). As a result, between 2008 and 2013, the reading rate increased from 4% to 6.8 % and the literacy rate from 92.9% to 96% (Unal, 2013, TUIK, 2013).
Even if the lack of economic wealth limits the publishing market in Turkey, there has been a distinct rise in the availability of children’s and young adult’s texts from both Turkish and World authors. This has brought a positive acceleration in the reading rate of young readers. Specifically, the translation of popular YA texts has opened a new field of reading in the country because there are not many Turkish authors who write for this age or, perhaps, because the authors who write YA literature are ‘not as good as foreign authors’, an opinion expressed by ‘Tess’ (the nickname of a girl w  ho participated in my project - she is a fan of Tess Gerritsen).
Regarding my own project, I am interested in the reading choices of adolescents in Turkey and the effects of these reading choices. I am conducting surveys, interviews and carrying out reading activities with readers in the second year of secondary in Adana province, in Southern Turkey. For the reading activities, I offer a list of Turkish and World classics as well as contemporary popular fiction to the participants. They choose one of them to read. If they want to read any other book which is not included in the list, they can do so as well. They identify the chapter they liked most and explain why, then the other participants read the chapter and they all discuss it. During these sessions, a total of 10 books will be discussed by two groups of five students.  

So far, according to the survey data I have obtained, 235 out of 294 students indicated that they have a favourite books and 74 of these books are Turkish books while 220 of these are World books. It is also interesting to note that among the ones who indicated a Turkish book as a favourite, there was a preference for realistic fiction, while the others preferred popular fantastic texts, such as The Hunger Games, Sherlock Holmes and Divergent. The Harry Potter and Twilight series were among their childhood favourites and opened the door for them to other stories involving fantasy.   

To conclude this brief account, although there are some factors that continue to have a negative impact on the reading practices of adolescents in Turkey, the increasing variety of books, which now include translated books, has been contributing to raising the reading rate.  We can hope that this will continue to rise, along with the new production of books for children and young people by Turkish authors and publishers, so that there will be a wider range of choices and readers will be further encouraged to read and, like the Head teacher mentioned at the start, will learn to love reading.

Osman Coban

Cötüksöken, Y. (2007). 100 Temel Eser Listeleri Üzerine, 100 Temel Eser Tartışması.

CSGB, (2015). Asgari Ücretin Net Hesabı, available at accessed on 17.05.2015.

Kılıç S., (n.d.). Malatya Okumada Dünya Rekoruna Koşuyor, available at accessed on 17.05.2015.
Robinson, A. (2010). Meltem's Journey: A Refugee Diary. Frances Lincoln ltd.

The Governorship of Istanbul, (n.d.) İstanbul İli Türkiye Okuyor Kampanyası Projesi, available at
Sabah (2012), Sigortalilarin Yarisi Asgari Ucretli, available at accessed on 19.05.2015.

TUIK (2012). ‘Working Children’, Turkish Statistical Institute, available at accessed on 17.05.2015.
TUIK (2013). ‘Turkey in Statistics 2013’, Turkish Statistical Institute, available at accessed on 19.05.2015.

Unal, (2013), Konusan Kitap Okumayı Artırdı, available at accessed on 14.12.2013.
Yegen, M. (2006). Müstakbel-Türk'ten Sözde-Vatandaşa: Cumhuriyet ve Kürtler. İletişim.



viernes, 1 de mayo de 2015

Young people are reading!

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.