May 23, 2011
Computers Cut Reading Ability In Children?

Another "progress is not inevitable" story.

Sweden and the US are two countries in which increased leisure use of computers by children leads to poorer reading ability. This is the conclusion from research carried out at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Professor Monica Rosén of the Department of Education and Special Education has analysed differences between different countries over time in order to explain change in reading achievement among 9-10-year olds. Within the framework of the research project she and her colleagues have studied how pupils' reading skills have changed since 1970. Hungary, Italy, the US and Sweden have been included in all of the international comparisons. Reading ability has improved steadily in Italy and Hungary, while it has fallen rapidly since 1991 in both the US and Sweden.

During this period, many factors within the school system have changed, as have also 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.

The researchers argue that computer usage has displaced leisure time reading and the leisure time reading provided a richer experience with words that do computers. This seems plausible for a couple of reasons:

  • Computer games do not require much text reading.
  • Messaging with friends involves using words you all know and abbreviations of simple words.
  • The web has lots of porno and other content that isn't intellectually enriching.

Some really bright kids are probably enabled by the web to learn more and faster. But the for the masses of kids I doubt that computers play the same role. Friends and family members with kids have told me too many stories of fights with role playing game addictions, messaging addictions, and the like. Computers are used like distraction generators to relieve boredom.

Computers could serve more constructive roles for kids. Teaching software could enable kids to learn much faster all hours of the day and night. But parents mostly do not seem to try hard to make computers into more constructive influences.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 May 23 11:19 PM  Comm Tech Society

PacRim Jim said at May 23, 2011 11:32 PM:

The Web has porno?
Why didn't someone tell me?

John D said at May 24, 2011 12:24 AM:

The demographics of the US have changed dramatically since 1970, particularly among children. I highly suspect that changes in reading achievement among 9-10-year olds is attributable to the much higher percentage of non-Asian minorities, who don't score as highly as our 1970 traditional demographic did.

Mthson said at May 24, 2011 3:05 AM:

It seems to be a general rule of thumb that whenever "declines" are observed in wealthy nations (like the US supposedly not having the best education system in the world), either control for dysgenic trends or throw your study out. 90% of academics have the intellectual sophistication of lumps of clay.

BernardZ said at May 24, 2011 3:50 AM:

I find it hard to believe.

In the past kids had to speak, not they need to function and get around on the net they need to read a lot.

Spelling and writing, I suspect have suffered.

Lono said at May 24, 2011 8:15 AM:

I purchased some educational software for my youngest and it was not long before her obsession with it started to bother me.

I have an addictive personality and love multimedia and the internet - probably al little too much - but I grew up a voracious reader in a time when those distractions did not exist for me.

For the time being - against my normal instincts - I have pretty much banned her from using the computer and I have moved her to a school which does not have computers in the classroom.

Her reading and writing skills seem to have improved greatly since I made this change - and I see no reason to allow her access to a computer again until late elementary school at the earliest.

I do believe, however, that children who have already developed solid reading skills do benefit from using the internet (supervised) - and by having access to word processors for writing for fun or for school assignments.

I have not decided if I even want to introduce my children to programming as it really is not a very stable profession anymore - and I only want to encourage them in it if they show the requisite interest first.

Russ said at May 24, 2011 8:17 AM:

Spelling's in the toilet even for adults around my age (40 or so). I regularly see folks using bad homophones (example from last week -- "I need the told numbers for the following:").
Progress is definitely not guaranteed, but I lay this one on t.v., with computer use as a side issue.

mrm27 said at May 24, 2011 11:32 AM:

I second Mthson. The researchers are too PC to admit that the score decline would be gone if you factor in race. It's like how the Catholic and Christian school in my township have state scores in the 95 percentile, but the public schools (49% get paid lunches, 9% get subsidized lunches) are in the toilet. I could look at the enrollment demographics and predict that.

Bruce said at May 24, 2011 1:33 PM:

Sweden has been taking in a lot of immigrants in the last 15 years.

"As of 2010 however, 1.33 million people or 14.3% of the inhabitants in Sweden were foreign-born. Sweden has been transformed from a nation of emigration ending after World War I to a nation of immigration from World War II onwards. In 2009, immigration reached its highest level since records began with 102,280 people emigrating to Sweden. In 2010, 32000 people applied for asylum to Sweden, a 25% increase from 2009, the highest amount in Swedish history.[59] In 2009, Sweden had the fourth largest number of asylum applications in the EU and the largest number per capita after Cyprus and Malta.[60] [61] Immigrants in Sweden are mostly concentrated in the urban areas of Svealand and Götaland and the five largest foreign born populations in Sweden come from Finland, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Poland and Iran.[62]"

I would think with the above numbers the report should have corrected for demographic changes.

anonyq said at May 24, 2011 4:57 PM:

Another explanation for Sweden could be less TV that is subtitles.

For Bruce:

If you had read the article you would have known that it isn't the the bad readers that became worse but in fact the good readers that became less good. It would surprise me if you will find many of them in bad urban neighbourhoods. Not now but also not 20 years ago

JT said at May 24, 2011 7:49 PM:

Isn't it possible that this is part of a larger movement toward a post-literate society?

Bruce said at May 25, 2011 8:06 AM:

anonyq , or there were less good reader. Maybe all they tested were public school students.

anonyq said at May 25, 2011 1:52 PM:

I seriously doubt that there are many elementary school students that are in privately funded schools in Sweden but i could be wrong.

That is what the article said that the average went down because the excellent reader became less good, but that the average and bad reder didn't become less bad

Bruce said at May 25, 2011 2:07 PM:

anonyq: "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 it is becoming evermore unusual that somebody actually sits down and reads something."

That is the most absurd statement anyone could make about computers and reading.

I have at least 100 blogs/news sites that I visit once every day. Those sites have links to other sites. And then I read places like this site and do google searches and read even more - most of the time on very complex subjects.

Yes, I used to read 2-3 newspapers a day ... but then they morphed into left wing nanny rags that lecture me on this and that. I read an actual newspaper once a month ... and then vow to never read one again.

The sponsor of this study ...

"Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ) is an independent foundation with the goal of promoting and supporting research in the Humanities and Social Sciences."

Well duh. Left wing bullsh*t artists annoyed that they can't shape the news because people can choose which blogs to read instead of their buddies left wing propaganda rags.

anonyq said at May 26, 2011 3:57 PM:

Riksbankens is the Swedish central bank and bankers are known to be left wing bullsh*t artists.

Bruce said at May 26, 2011 11:32 PM:

Sweden was a socialist country and the official bank of a socialist country is going to support leftist politics and looking at the website, I'll stand by my description.

Sweden is also virulently anti-Israel these days which is sad ... but hey, no surprise after WWII.

"In some cities such as Malmö, Sweden, or Roubaix, France, the persecution suffered by the Jewish community has reached such a degree that people are selling their homes at any price and leaving. Those who stay have the constant feeling that they are risking their lives: they must be extremely streetwise and carry no sign showing who they are. In 1990, approximately 2000 Jewish people lived in Malmö; now there are fewer than 700, and the number is decreasing every year."

frank said at July 19, 2011 2:56 PM:

True, the left despises Israel. After all, the Arabs are darker and poorer than the Israelis, so they MUST be the innocent victims of discrimination.

However, I believe the more immediate factor in Malmo (don't know Roubaix) is that the Muslims have become so numerous and influential there. Non-Muslim women must wear Islamic garb in many areas, or be insulted & treated as prostitutes. Jews are treated even worse.

Be prepared to see a Jewish diaspora from Europe as it becomes increasingly Muslim and anti-Semitic in the years ahead.

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London Heathrow airport transfers to Oxford said at December 15, 2011 1:49 AM:

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