In a win for old-fashioned paper books, new research has found children with access to a range of e-reading devices are less likely to read.
The findings will serve as a wake-up call for parents, and schools, which have rushed to buy expensive devices to boost children’s literacy.
Giving children devices such as Kindles, iPads, computers and mobile phones inhibits reading, according to the study.
“Reading frequency was less when children had access to a greater range of these devices,” the research said.
Mobile phones were particularly problematic, and linked to reading infrequency.
Murdoch University lecturer Margaret Merga said her research, which was published in the Computers and Education journal, challenges the myth that children are digital natives who prefer screens.
It found that daily readers who had access to e-reading devices preferred paper books.
“There has been a knee jerk reaction that all children prefer to read on screens and that has led to school libraries removing all paper books,” she said. “That is not necessarily the case.”
Why do young people prefer paper books?
Previous research by Dr Merga suggests that it comes down to children liking the sensation of picking up a book and “feeling the weight of commitment”.
She suspects young people are also judging books by their covers, making the paper variety more attractive.
There’s also the benefit of fewer distractions.
“Reading on internet search enabled devices, such as tablets, also opens up easy opportunity for distraction, allowing engagement in the practice of media multi-tasking, which has been found to detrimentally impact on student comprehension and concentration,” the study said.
Nine-year-old Benji Mazzone said he prefers paper books because he likes turning pages and “being taken somewhere else”.
He reads one to two books a week and can be found browsing the shelves of the Little Bookroom in Carlton North most nights after school. He writes reviews for the children’s bookshop, and helps staff wrap up presents.
With the help of his mum, he set up his own book club last year, where he discussed the popular Tinklers Three series with his friends.
“I’m a bit of a bookworm,” he said. “I read for two hours a day – I do some in the morning and after school.”
Ten-year-old Madeleine Hayen, from Annandale, has mixed views on the merits of paper and electronic reading.
“I don’t mind what I read as long as it’s interesting,” Madeleine said. “I reckon I’ve got over 200 books on my bookcase.”
The Year 5 student goes to Glebe Library once a week with her grandparents to pick up a new batch of books.
“I used to read a lot of books and stuff, but ever since I found Kindles, I kind of enjoy that more because it’s a lot lighter and easier to take around with me. When I go to school in the morning I can just read and it’s a lot easier to use,” Madeleine said.
“When you read paperbacks and hardcover books, you can actually see the pictures which informs you a lot about what the story is trying to say.”
The study involved 997 Western Australian students in years 4 and 6 who were asked how often they read books in their spare time, whether they owned iPads, Kindles or mobile phones and whether they used them to read.
It coincides with the increased take up of e-books in Australian schools, with an estimated 34 per cent of schools purchasing e-books in 2015 compared to 28 per cent in 2013, according to The Australian and New Zealand School Library Survey.
Bring Your Own Device policies have also made it easier for students to access e-books.
Dr Merga said parents had been put in a difficult position and were targeted by aggressive marketing which suggested that technology improved children’s intelligence.
She said there was no scientific evidence to support this.
The research follows a 2015 OECD report which found that investing in computers and iPads in schools fails to boost numeracy and literacy skills. The OECD report went even further, saying that frequent use of computers in schools was often associated with lower results.
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