More Kids With Phones Than Books

The digital revolution continues to throw up new and somewhat bizzare stats. This is just another one for the list; kids in England are more likely to own a mobile phone than own a book.

The National Literacy Trust in England  surveyed  17,000 school students aged between 7 and 16. It found that over 85% of those surveyed owned a mobile phone, yet under 73% owned a book.

One could draw multiple conclusions from such statistics. It could mean libraries are doing as well as mobile phone retailers. It could mean there is a booming ebook market for kids literature powered by smart phones and e-readers. Or it could demonstrate parents are more concerned with keeping tabs on their kids than keeping books on their shelves.

It does offer further support for previously established facts of life;

  • texting friends is more fun than reading a book when you’re 12 years old and grounded,
  • reading a text written by a friend a few minutes ago is more compelling than reading text written by an adult 20 years ago,
  • playing Angry Birds is more engaging than reading Thorn Birds.

What it means for kids and reading is not clear. In a pre digital world literacy was intrinsically linked to material produced by printing presses. Such a strong connection in the new economy is not as apparent given the rapidly increasing development of digital content and media.

Of course it is important that kids learn to read in order to access information, be it on paper or online. What is less obvious is how the necessary exposure to language and text is facilitated. I have a young daughter who reads books, but she also spends an equivalent amount of time on the computer. She is being exposed to, and interacting with, text and language by both media. However I would argue she is developing other essential literacy skills while on the computer that she cannot learn from interacting with books.

This is the key issue for understanding and educating kids and teenagers today, preparing for a life in an economy that will be vastly different to that which has been experienced by their parents or teachers. Multiple literacies are essential to kids being ready for a life which will have learning and adaption as constant life long requirements. Knowing how to read will only be half the battle, knowing how to interact with the technology of the media and sort through the copious amounts of information will be equally important.

I am not an expert on literacy, and I concede that technologies like predictive texting and IM “lol” like language are possible threats to traditional comprehension and grammar, and I am sure books still have their place (I still read books to my daughter before bed). The ability to transition from traditional media and associated learning paradigms to new technologies and new requirements is challenging, not the least because it means we need to ask new types of question in order to come up with helpful for answers. However it is necessary to acknowledge these challenges and take hold of them while still holding onto conventional wisdom, but maybe with one hand instead of two.

I’m interested in what others make of this?

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