A society rich in print is an educated society

The printing industry will find it difficult to win arguments on environmental issues; the industry can only be reactive to the issue. It’s hard for the industry to take a leadership role where all it continues to do is to respond to indifferent comments, attacks and pseudo reports. Of course the best companies in the industry are doing a fantastic job of making their operations more efficient and less environmentally damaging. But the industry has much better stories it can tell.

A recent report documented the performance of Australian school students against their peers around the world. Despite how good we think our education system is, the results show something completely different. There have been alarming falls in literacy skills in Australia since 1995 (although it should be said that in maths and science, we have slightly improved since 1995).

There is ample research that shows the link between the reduction in casual reading and the decline in literacy in society.

The downward trend in printed material taking place as company and government information is moved to the internet reduces the opportunity for casual reading across all society. Organisations that shift their information from printing to the internet could be said to be effectively debasing the literacy of the nation’s children and the future abilities of the society. Although that recent report noted the decline in literacy of children specifically, it may reflect a decline in literacy across a wider age group in Australia.

More print means a smarter society. That is the basic concept behind a theory called ‘Print-rich Society’.

This theory suggests that children’s literacy increases when they are exposed to a wide range of different types of printed material, including billboards, newspapers, magazines and catalogues. We shouldn’t assume literacy is only gained through reading books. Associating words with imagines and, therefore, concepts in the printed form is the best way for children to become literate.

If Australian literacy skills continues on a downward spiral, it will challenge the government’s plan to see our children’s literacy levels among the top five nations in the world. We currently rate about 27th. The ability the read and write and, therefore, communicate complex ideas is critical if we hope to play an important and profitable role in the Asian century.

When the president of Indonesia was asked what is the best thing that can be done for the future of Indonesia, he said: “Print books.”

Phillip Lawrence is a PhD scholar, consultant and speaker who specialises in print and the environment

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