It was widely reported yesterday that the popularity of computer games are being blamed for a drop in the reading skills of primary school pupils, according to a new report. The Reading Literacy Study studies 45 countries in a variety of ways in order to come to some sort of understanding of the level of reading skills across the spectrum.
England has moved down from 3rd in 2001 to 19th in 2006 – something which has shocked many, but not others, who feel that the education system in Britain is currently suffering – which is why there has been all manner of suggestions including keeping children in school until they are eighteen (for those who don’t know, you can leave school in the UK after initial GCSE education, finishing at age sixteen).
Scotland has also plummeted down from 14th place to 26th in the table – so a worrying trend across two of the countries in the UK – despite both having increasing numbers of students attending university.
Schools Minister, Ed Balls, had this to say about the apparent ‘crisis’ in reading:
‘We all need to help our children of all ages to see that reading can bring fun to their lives, feed their imagination, and develop their curiosity about the world,’
‘Today’s 10-year-olds have more choice than in 2001 about how they spend their free time.
‘Most of them have their own TVS and mobiles and 37 per cent are playing computer games for three hours or more a day – more than in most countries in the study.’
I’d like to add this to the minister’s commentary – doing anything for three hours per day (including studying after school) will have a negative impact on your life as a child. However, I’d also say that I’d be extremely surprised if his study was correct – I know from my childhood I had access to games every day, but never had a real chance to play them for three hours during the week. Granted, the weekend was another matter.
This brings me to another minister’s point of view:
‘While the Government says their policies are driving up standards every year, the independent auditors of our education system tell a very different story’
‘We are falling dangerously behind other countries and we know that those from the poorest backgrounds are suffering most.’
This is the view of government minster Michael Gove – Shadow Children’s Secretary. This is pretty much the job of the Shadow government in the UK, they bicker about the other party and then say that their policies are rubbish. Thus, Gove has done a good job here.
Nonetheless, I’d like to combine both points of view. If Gove is saying the government policies aren’t working yet Balls is saying that children are playing games for three hours a day, I’d suggest another thing. Blame the parents, as well as the system.
If you allow your child to spend endless hours doing something (by my calculations it would be in excess of 25 hours per week, given five hours per day at the weekend) then the rest of their free time is significantly reduced. Therefore, parents take note, make sure to get your child involved in reading and writing.
The system is of course also to blame. I’d say (regardless of what both The Daily Mail and The Guardian would have you believe) that literature is in the finest form that it has ever been in these days. We have access to almost every ‘classic’ ever written, along with everything from papers to medical journals online.
Therefore, the system is failing to adequately get children involved in reading, by (as they have done since the dawn of the modern school system) trying to force-feed them books that bare little relation to the modern world, however ‘classic’ we are told they are. I’m pretty sure that a teacher would have far more success with Life of Pi by Yann Martel than he ever would with Great Expectations for instance. And yes, I would say it is just as good. Times have changed, and so have tastes.
I would like to also point out a massive flaw in the argument here – CORRELATION DOES NOT INDICATE CAUSALITY. In plain English, just because there are more children with tv’s, mobiles and playing computer games, that does not mean that modern technology lies at the heart of this apparent lowered standard for reading and writing. Unless there is another study done to try and find out why children are spending less time with books (I’d be surprised if it’s not in some way because of the parents) then this is just knee-jerk reactionism.
I’ve defended computer games before and I’ll continue to do so as long as I am playing – which I would imagine will be for as long as I can remember. I think one thing Balls et al are forgetting is that their education was probably patently inferior to the education now provided to many children – I’m certainly aware that my cousin (who is fourteen) is now learning HTML, something I was sadly never educated in at school!
As a footnote, I not only a games player but an avid book reader. In fact, I have too many. I donate books now and then. Who knows, maybe one of these will be a book that manages to bring the magic of reading into a child’s life. I can only hope so, because just like computer games, reading can transport you to a magic world that’s all your own.