A provocative new study suggests increased leisure use of computers by children leads to poorer reading ability. Swedish researchers said this effect is being played out in both Sweden and the United States.
Monica Rosén, Ph.D., of the University of Gothenburg, analyzed differences between different countries over time in order to explain change in reading achievement among 9- to 10-year olds.
Rosén and her colleagues have studied how pupils’ reading skills have changed since 1970 in Hungary, Italy, the U.S. and Sweden. Reading ability has improved steadily in Italy and Hungary, while it has fallen rapidly since 1991 in both the U.S. and Sweden.
During this period, many factors within the school system have changed, as as society in general and the after-school activities of children in particular. The Swedish and American pupils described a large increase in the use of computers in their free time during this period, while a similar increase was not reported in Hungary or Italy.
“Our study shows that the entry of computers into the home has contributed to changing children’s habits in such a manner that their reading does not develop to the same extent as previously,” Rosén said.
“By comparing countries over time we can see a negative correlation between change in reading achievement and change in spare time computer habits which indicates that reading ability falls as leisure use of computers increases.”
Researchers also found the frequency of leisure reading and the number of leisure books borrowed from the library have both fallen as computer use in the home has increased.
Thus, it is not the computers in themselves or the activities they are used for that impair reading skills, but rather that computers have stolen time from leisure reading. According to the researchers, the new computer habits do not promote the development of reading ability in the same way as leisure reading of books does.
Reading of printed media has fallen also among adults. In many homes, especially among younger adults, researchers say it is uncommon for an individual to sit down and read.
“We have shown that the poorer results are principally caused by a fall in the skills of those from the center of the ability range and upwards. It is not that case that there are more less-gifted readers or that the skills of these readers have become poorer. What has happened is that there are fewer high-performing children,” Rosén said.
Rosén pointed out that it is very difficult to measure and compare reading skills over time.
“It is important that we do not jump to the conclusion that the complete explanation for poorer reading is deficiencies in education,” she said. “On the contrary, the way in which computers undermine reading shows very clearly that leisure time is at least as important when it comes to developing high-quality reading skills.”
Source: University of Gothenburg