Simone C. Ehmig

Simone Ehmig
Head of the Institute for Research on Reading and Media

Stiftung Lesen

What are you currently working on?

I am working with my team on a research and development project on motivating adults with basic education needs to take up learning opportunities. The question of commitment in everyday life also plays a role here, i.e.: What obligations and appointments do people take on, where do they reliably participate once they have made an agreement? From the results of quantitative and qualitative survey steps, we derive recommendations for how learning opportunities should be designed in terms of content and organization and how they can be communicated to the target group. A key finding of the study: For adults with basic education needs, the abstract concept of “education” is hardly something they find important and worthwhile. To get them excited about learning, we need to address other values and objectives that play a role in the everyday lives of people with basic education needs.

What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?

A study about the influence of contemporary events and personal experiences on the professional and political views of different generations of journalists. The study was the basis of my dissertation. I had the privilege of working with two famous Chicago School sociologists, Kurt Lang and Gladys Engel Lang. With two surveys of journalists representative of Germany, we were not only able to see in which years of life the individuals were particularly strongly influenced, but we were also able to identify generation-specific types of events. Just as the Second World War, the oil crisis or Chernobyl influenced different age groups in characteristic ways, we can expect current events such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine to shape the next generation of adults.

Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?

To have established a monitoring of parents’ reading aloud behavior that is representative for Germany. For 15 years, we conducted an annual study on reading aloud. Although we often derived the topics of the studies from the previous year in terms of content, the studies were independent of each other. In 2022, we presented the first study of a planned series of annual and comparably designed surveys. In this way, we achieve greater awareness among the public, but above all among education policy actors.

What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?

In Germany, more than in almost any other country, we see a very close connection between children’s basic skills (especially reading and writing) and the formal education of their parents. This means that children whose parents have a low level of education are more likely not to learn to read (and write) well than children from more highly educated homes. Breaking this vicious circle is one of the greatest challenges in our country, and so far we do not have the right answers on the part of science.

What would be your work motto?

No intervention (to promote reading and education) without empirical foundations.

Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?

An empirically based essay in the journal “Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte” on “Lesekompetenz und Lesebegriff” (Reading Literacy and the Concept of Reading). In this publication, I addressed for the first time a problem that is again specific to Germany: The term “reading” in Germany is strongly associated with books, literature and culture. Media coverage and public discussion about reading focus strongly on these aspects. This narrow concept of reading means that adults who cannot read well hardly develop any motivation to learn to read better, because books and literature are not an option for them.

If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?

A long-term panel study to identify risk and success factors in reading socialization. I would focus on fatalistic views, which we see strongly developed in low educated and low literate populations. Of interest are the life events and triggering factors that lead to changing fatalistic perspectives and developing motivation to realize potential and further develop skills.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?

Don’t follow the mainstream, but develop your own perspectives on the world and the questions on which you implement your own research. Good research thrives on independence of thought.

Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?

Frank Niklas, a colleague at the University of Munich. He is an educational psychologist and researches on issues of Home Learning, Literacy and Numeracy Environment. Frank has worked in Australia for a long time and connects the worlds very well. This includes the worlds of learning with conventional and digital media. I appreciate Frank Niklas for his differentiated and reflective view and think he fits well into the “CAMmer” series.