Touch-screen devices could close the gap in children's literacy

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Touch-screen technology could be used to to combat low literacy in boys and disadvantaged children, suggests a new report.


Children from working class families are more likely to use a touch screen device to read stories than books

According to the 'Early Years Literacy Survey', carried out by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) and Pearson, three- and four-year-olds from working class and non-working households, compared to their peers from upper middle and middle class families, spend more time reading stories on a touch-screen device than they do reading books.

Based on the responses of 1,012 parents of three- to five-year-olds and 567 early years practitioners who work with this age group, the survey shows the same is true for boys when compared to girls, regardless of their socio-economic status.

Twice as many boys than girls, 24 per cent compared to 12 per cent, look at or read stories on a touch-screen for longer than they look at or read printed stories.

According to respondents, more than 91 per cent of the children have access to a touch-screen device at home.

The NLT also found that children had a wider vocabulary if they read stories in both print form and on a touch-screen compared to those who didn’t use technology.

The charity says the findings highlight the potential of touch-screen technology to positively influence the reading behaviour of children of lower socio-economic status and boys.

The survey also looked into the use of technology in early years settings and found that the number of nurseries and pre-schools using touch screens has nearly doubled since 2013 to 41.3 per cent.

More than half of respondents working in nurseries and pre-schools said they want more access to touch-screen technology. However, a quarter do not think technology has a place in their setting.

The majority of practitioners reported feeling more confident sharing stories with children on paper than on a touch screen.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said, ‘Our second Early Years Literacy Survey with Pearson throws up very interesting evidence on the positive impact of combining technology with books on pre-school children’s vocabulary. Children’s early language and vocabulary skills lay the foundation for their future success and it is crucial that we recognise the opportunities that technology brings for engaging boys and poorer children in reading.

‘Our research confirms that technology is playing a central role in young children’s vocabulary development. Nearly all children have access to a touch-screen device at home and as technology advances and digital skills become increasingly important, we need to harness these developments to encourage children to become avid readers, whatever format they choose.’

Julie McCulloch, director of policy and thought leadership at Pearson UK, said, ‘This research highlights the shifts in literacy learning that are enabled and driven by technology, both in the home and in more formal settings. We’ll be exploring how we can do more to support parents and practitioners to make the most of these trends to support improved outcomes for young people, in the UK and around the world.’

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