Saturday 19 October 2019

Technology is 'stealing the gift of reading' away from our children

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Children's reading is suffering because of the amount of time they are spending on screen, education experts have warned.

The digital age is affecting their ability to read for pleasure and to differentiate fact from fiction.

"The length of screen time that children experience is now becoming a problem of epidemic proportions which serves to reduce time for engagement with books and other reading materials," according to Dr Margaret O'Donnell and Dr Thérèse McPhillips, of Dublin City University (DCU).

Dr O'Donnell, who lectures in special education, and Dr McPhillips, a specialist in literacy, said reading was a vital skill, more so in an age of information overload.

"The importance of teaching children to read for pleasure - to give them the gift of reading, to read critically, to be able to distinguish fact from fiction - cannot be overstated," they said.

The two academics from DCU's faculty of education have expressed concerns ahead of the annual MS Readathon, the largest mass-reading initiative in Ireland, which runs from next Friday to November 11.

The MS Readathon, now in its 32nd year, is targeted at both schools and parents with the aim of encouraging reading among young people. More than 10,000 children are expected to participate.

However, there is evidence of a fall-off in the number of parents signing up for the initiative which, it is feared, is linked to the widespread use of smartphones.

Ahead of this year's programme, two DCU academics reviewed various pieces of research on the subject, which, when taken together, show such concerns are well-founded.

They cited ESRI research, based on data from 8,500 children in the Growing Up in Ireland study, which found that children who owned a mobile phone at age nine scored 4pc less on standardised reading and maths tests at age 13.

They stressed the importance of the bedtime story and say it helps children to become more independent in their reading.

Studies show that children who have televisions in their bedrooms have poorer reading habits and lower scores in literacy tests.

Dr O'Donnell spoke about the importance of parental involvement in supporting children to engage with books and reading from an early age, with evidence that it had more of an impact than any other factor such as the level of household income or social class.

She said for young pupils, shared or paired reading, which is what MS Readathon was all about, with an adult enriched the child's vocabulary and improved reading comprehension.

"Reading for pleasure among schoolchildren has been shown to have a positive correlation with reading achievement and performance on standardised measures of attainment," she said.

Irish Independent

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