International Journal of Educational Development
Abstract: Independent reading—unassigned reading for personal pleasure—has been shown to be an important driver of reading skills and academic success. Children that commonly read for pleasure exhibit higher academic performance. However, little research has been done on independent reading in rural China, where the education system is charged with schooling tens of millions of students. Many rural students fall behind their urban counterparts in school, with potentially troubling implications for China’s ongoing development. This article explores the prevalence of independent reading and its associations with reading ability and academic performance among rural students. Using a mixed methods approach, we analyze quantitative data from a survey of 13,232 students from 134 rural schools and interviews with students, teachers, principals, and caregivers. We find that independent reading is positively and significantly correlated with reading ability as well as standardized math and Chinese tests scores. Despite such correlations, only 17 percent of students report reading for pleasure for an hour a day. Interview findings suggest that inaccessible bookstores, curriculum constraints, unsupportive home environments, low availability of appealing and level-appropriate books, and insufficient school investment in reading resources may explain the low prevalence of independent reading.