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Dame Wendy Pye: Let business help schools

Wednesday 20 Feb 2013 10:08 a.m.

Book publisher and children's literacy advocate Dame Wendy Pye says in one year, she could have every child in New Zealand able to read, if given the chance.

Speaking to Firstline this morning, Dame Wendy said Kiwis have a "hang-up" about business involvement in the education system, unlike in other countries.

"My dream would be to form a small group of different publishers – not necessarily just myself – and the Government, and say, let's make it happen," says Dame Wendy.

"Every child should read fluently at the first year of reading, and we can make it happen in one year. We do it in other countries, so why can't we do it in New Zealand?"

Wendy Pye Publishing has deals with a number of governments around the world, including states in Australia, but can't get into the New Zealand education system.

"It's becoming better, but I think there's a bit of a hang-up that this is the job of the Government, and this is the job of private enterprise, and people have a problem.

"Where in other countries, people see education as [presenting] large opportunities where private enterprise is invited in. Even the Victorian government invite us in… but in New Zealand we don't have a package like that, which is sad."

Dame Wendy says her company has recently expanded into Pakistan, teaching young girls to read. Fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai was last year shot by the Taliban for advocating girls' education.

"Asia is a growing market, because people want to learn English at a very young age… We're working with Pakistan, India and also working with Ghana and other countries like that in Africa, because Africa's a great emerging country (sic).

"I imagine they're going to wire up the whole of Africa  with mobile devices and so we can get into the villages. But in Pakistan we're going to concentrate on helping girls learn to read, because I have a passion for that."

The strong New Zealand dollar is posing a challenge, but Dame Wendy says it won't stop her.

"What can you do? You've just got to get on with life, haven't you?"

In the three decades since Dame Wendy decided she wanted to help children learn to read, her companies have produced more than 2000 titles that have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide.

Her work was acknowledged when she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list.

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