Amazon Kindle and other eReaders
An Amazon Kindle (L-R), a Bookeen Cybook Odyssey, and a Sony Reader, all of which use technology developed by E Ink, are pictured at E Ink Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 25, 2012. Reuters/Dominick Reuter

New research has shown that printed pages of a book – as opposed to words on screen – are still preferred by children who read. Devices, rather than encouraging young people to read, may even lessen periods devoted to reading.

In an age when e-readers such as iPads, Kindles and mobile phones come into many children's possession, one is inclined to think they would be more likely to read. A study made by researchers from Murdoch University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, involving children in years 4 and 6, bared how electronic devices inhibited reading. Moreover, the youngsters still gravitated to paper books.

Common notions debunked

The results suggested the opposite. Even those who were daily book readers tended to not utilise their devices for reading, according to the study published on Science Direct.

The findings supported previous research showing that teenagers used their devices for purposes other than reading e-books. While it is easy enough to download e-books at little or no cost, most teens who are avid readers still prefer the heft of a book with easy-to-read typeset.

In effect, the new research also debunked the popular assumption that young people like to read on screens. That assumption was based on another one: that young children and teens have high literacy. However, kids do not really have a uniform set of skills, with only some knowing how to access free reading material through an application like Overdrive.

It was writer Marc Prensky who first coined the term “digital natives” in 2001. He referred to kids who prefer screen-based reading. From that time onwards, some libraries in Australia and the United States have chosen to remove paper books in favor of e-books.

Modern devices like e-books are now being promoted in more schools. Unfortunately, that may work to the detriment of youths’ reading habits rather than to their improvement, as the study uncovered.

Keep on reading

International research indicates that young readers are becoming less interested in books. There are a number of ways to address the situation if a child has shown the same disinclination.

The first way is to be an example. The sight of a parent enjoying a book will do much to engender a child to do the same. The aforementioned study also showed that a number of students had no inkling if their teachers liked reading. In contrast, another group of students, whose teachers were known to be avid readers, took a great interest in traditional books.

Secondly, provide the right environment for reading at home and in school. This entails quietude, sufficient lighting and privacy, little things that add up to conducive reading.

The value of reading cannot be belittled in terms of building and retaining literacy skills. It is with that in mind that children and students must be encouraged to continue reading for their own pleasure and benefit.