Reading has a positive effect on oneself and on the community. It is important that school children and adolescents continue to develop a reading habit. Research has shown that reading not only helps with getting a job but also awakens their social and civic sense. In addition, it is found that regular readers contribute more to the community around them. However, according to NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), 43 million US adults possess low literacy skills. The rise of technology has led to the conception of some of the greatest discoveries in the world: self-driving cars, robots-assisted surgeries, instant global video communication, and more. But while there are some obvious benefits, there are also some severe drawbacks especially affecting young kids and adolescents. Specifically, the decline in motivation to read among the upcoming generation could lead to a learning gap. Now, books must compete with screens for time in a child’s hand, which puts the reading cause at a severe disadvantage. Why does the screen win over a book? Well, “using a screen sets off a pleasure/reward cycle in your brain”, which releases dopamine, and “the dopamine release given from screens results in a sort of addiction to those screens, similar to those in the brains of cocaine users” (SCK). How does this relate to education? Students all over the world are now reading significantly less due to a combination of screens and lack of access. This puts them further behind in their studies, and if this trend continues, could lead to the demise of high-level reading. The key to balance may be moderation of screen and ways to encourage reading.
Let’s look at the impact excessive screen time can bring to a child or an adolescent. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American teens spend 9 hours average on screens daily. While technology is a way to learn and connect, excessive time on screen could lead to problems like obesity, poor school performance and importantly reading fewer books or none! Additionally, research reported by TIME has shown that screen time is habit forming and the more time spent on screen is, the harder it is to break that habit as they grow. So, when children spend hours watching screen, where would they have time for reading? The National Assessment of Educational Progress also shared the correlation between using digital devices and Language Arts performance done by NAEP. The image shows that a significantly higher percentage (65% Vs. 29%) of students fell below basic reading level when they watched screen for 4 hours or more compared to students who watched for 30 minutes or less daily.
I started reflecting on this problem after a few personal experiences. At the beginning of this year, around the middle of the pandemic, Learning Spaces, an organization I co-founded to bridge education inequality gap, had coordinated a book drive and we were trying to decide on the schools to distribute the books. After talking to a few local schools, we gained insight that the “reading” problem was twofold: a combination of both lack of access, which is what we had aimed to combat, and lack of motivation to pick up a book and read. We could supply all the books in the world, but if there was no time or motivation to pick up a book from the school library then all our work would be for naught. Another experience that culminated in this reflection occurred much more recently. While on a call with the team who were spearheading Project Library in India to establish libraries and distribute books to over 100,000 kids, one thing that the lead presenter said that struck me was that we need to not only provide books, but find ways to continually develop reading interest. Otherwise, kids would watch TV all day instead of reading books. He said that kindling that “continuous interest” is the key if we want them to be encouraged to read.
Screen watched in moderation would be fine as that is the main channel of entertainment today. However, when it competes with and eventually eliminates reading time then it can become a serious educational problem. Reading creates better vocabulary, inspires people to take up challenges, encourages them to reflect deeply, increases one’s patience and focus, and most importantly boosts creativity. Thus, reading is essential to the development of education, and to our work here at Learning Spaces. So, how do we now combat this lack of motivation? Well, like Dr. Seuss, we can make books more interesting and illustrative. But the best solution seems to be increasing the motivation of reading by encouraging kids to read! In addition, they could be a member of a book club deliberately so they could discuss the books they read. This is something we here at Learning Spaces aim to try and improve and hope we can do so through our work in book drives and in writing our own children’s books and distributing it throughout the world