eReaders Not the Secret to Getting Kids to Read, Study Says
We’ve long assumed the iGen — who learn to operate an iPad as early as they learn to chew their food – prefer e-readers, leading some libraries and schools in Australia and the US to diminish their paper book collections in favour of e-books. But recent research suggests that getting kids to read might be more about offering them a good, old-fashioned tome rather than an e-reader for kids.
An Australian study, first reported by Quartz, of 997 children in grades 4 and 6 with regular access to e-reading devices, found that they tended not to use their devices for reading – even if they were already in the habit of reading daily. In other words, having an e-reader did not mean the child read more; rather, the study found that the more devices a child had access to, the less the child read overall. The devices contributed to distraction, letting children disengage with the e-books partway, in favor of other apps on the device.
This is troubling for a variety of reasons. First, this means a growing number of children are reading less: Publisher Scholastic also surveyed Australian children from ages 9 to 11, and found that nearly one-third of them had read an e-book. Similar surveys by Scholastic in the UK and US indicated 41% and 56% of children had read an e-book, respectively. (Similar data is available for few other countries, but considering that Amazon Kindle sales grew by 80% in India last year — and tripled the year before that, per a report by LiveMint — it’s safe to say e-reading is on the rise for all ages, everywhere.)
Second, when they are reading on e-readers for kids, it’s not the same brain-building experience as cracking open a book. Research in neuroscience has shown that the part of the brain we use when reading from paper is different from the part we use when reading from a screen. The more we read on screens, the more we become used to skimming or short bursts of reading – called non-linear reading, which isn’t as great for learning and memory; studies have shown that when students read on paper, they remember more of what they’ve read and learn better.
All of this means that a whole generation is starting to miss out on the major cognitive benefits of reading, which include everything from improved maths skills, stronger cognition and more resistance to mental decline in old age, to better interpersonal skills and empathy. Unless they start hitting the books.