Touchscreen technology is good for kids? Don’t believe the hype

Writing in the Guardian, Eliane Glaser says the National Literacy Trust’s headline-grabbing claims about the impact of ebooks and tablets on reading is little more than highly coordinated lobbying based on flimsy evidence…

…The NLT published research suggesting that “touchscreen technology can be more effective in engaging children aged three to five with reading than books”, and that these effects are amplified in low-income households. But read between the lines, and a rather different story emerges.

The research is a collaboration with Pearson, the giant multinational currently extending its corporate tentacles into every aspect of education, from policy to curriculum to resources to testing. The NLT has always had links with commerce: it was founded by Sir Simon Hornby, chairman of WH Smith. But at least back then its interest lay in promoting the selling of books. The Trust is now part-funded by Pearson, which aims to make digital products and services 70% of its sales by 2015.

Thus the cosy connotations of “literacy” and “trust” are here being used as a Trojan horse to introduce the very technologies that are killing reading and writing. Digital and online technology is fragmenting our attention spans and demolishing the publishing industry.

For the most part, the media has dutifully run with the headline findings about literacy and inequality, cheerleading big business’s exploitation of poverty as a fig leaf for market expansion. But these headlines are derived from marginal and contradictory data. The majority of the report demonstrates the enduring primacy of books. Children are much more likely to enjoy stories in books than stories on a screen. Children are 34 times more likely to read storybooks daily than stories on tablets daily. Children are four times more likely to read stories in a book for more than 30 minutes. Children are more likely to read stories on tablets on their own, losing out on the huge benefits of reading with a parent.

In March this year, the NLT and Pearson carried out a related study of children’s use of technology, and made similar claims about the potential for touchscreen devices to bridge social divides. But the actual findings demonstrated the opposite: overall, children who only read stories in books were more likely to exceed literacy expectations at age five than those who also read stories on screens.

Tellingly, seven months on, different criteria have been used to measure literacy. Instead of reading, writing and speaking – the commonsense definition of literacy – this time the study has used something called the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS), which measures a child’s ability to hear a word and point to the corresponding picture on a flashcard. This is not a test of literacy, and has nothing to do with reading. The BPVS is derived from the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, developed by – yes, you guessed it – Pearson…

More at: Touchscreen technology is good for kids? Don’t believe the hype


Fascinating rebuttal to the research we reported earlier in the week. Which side are you on? Please let us know, and why, in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Research.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Every time I read about the findings of a report I wonder who sponsored it. This highlights issue and backs up my experience

  2. Nor_edu

    SchoolsImprove controversial reporting on the impact of tablets on literacy – things might not be as they seem. My gut instinct agrees…

  3. 1AGreenMouse

    SchoolsImprove Take time to read, love, & feel books with young children. Add tech only to add something useful. Beware hype & big business

  4. Vague_Inkling

    SchoolsImprove road testing an early draft of an app today found it most effective with ratio of 4 children to 1 iPad indiscussion and fun

  5. Vague_Inkling

    SchoolsImprove road testing an early draft of an app today found it most effective with ratio of 4 children to 1 iPad indiscussion and fun

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