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Books Vs Screens: Ban One or Balance Both?

Updated: Apr 19, 2022



In the wake of a global pandemic, digitisation has had a profound influence in most aspects of our lives. Do you recall for instance when a phone number was to be remembered and not saved, how about the more recent old days where we paid currency, instead of swiping plastic cards or waving phones?


However, when it comes to e-learning the child’s added exposure to screens finds schools and parents worried. Aside from discussing the ideal method of online-only learning, the subject of many a phone call was also a child that loves using the tablet, but detests books and study material, and how to ensure the use of such devices for productive pursuits.


Reading elitists regularly shun e-books as an inferior substitute, and this purist behaviour has parents conflicted about letting their children read on a screen. While children were subjected to the magic box’s screen long before the pandemic, when schools and nurseries go online (even if only temporarily), we need to take a good look to consider whether this extended screen time is good, bad, or maybe a blessing in disguise.


An article by the U.K based National Literacy Trust (NLT) on children and digital reading caught our eye recently and it got us thinking about if this added screen time has previously unknown hidden benefits. Here are some of advantages that we believe could work.


Rewiring the reluctant reader

It’s no secret that there’s an abundance of children who dislike reading but would gladly spend all day ogling at the not-so-smart-screen. It therefore certainly sounds sensible that using e-books to tempt them into reading would be a brilliant solution.


The NLT study by Christina Clark and Irene Picton backed this and determined that a child’s reading ability improved by using e-books. But the impact wasn’t just reading ability, the number of boys who once found reading difficult had now reduced, and twice that number, now claimed that reading was ‘cool’.


In India the NEP 2020 seeks to create a digitally empowered society by integrating computers and smart devices not just as subjects but as learning tools too. It is therefore important that children acquaint themselves with these devices as power tools that can be used productively.


E for Edge in E-Learning?

As preschool educators we’ve enjoyed a front seat to the enthusiasm shown during Audio Video lessons. Children find undeniable encouragement when they say a word in sync with that word lighting up on screen, some of our staff fondly refer to this as toddler karaoke. These interactions assure us of the genuine potential for digital solutions to make learning more entertaining and subsequently more effective. The Techies among our team often opine that the flexibility of customisable e-learning tools help students read when the font is too tiny or too many words appear on a cluttered page.


Should I just burn my library (onto a CD, that is)?

Regardless of whether it happens on screen or paper, reading is a healthy habit, but ideally, reading time should be spread across the electronic and print formats. Why? It’s because paper books have certain advantages over e-books.


A study by the University of California compared comprehension, engagement and vocabulary amongst preschoolers who read books and those that read from screens. It revealed that children reading printed books reported slightly higher levels of retention and comprehension, due to the focus demanded in printed mediums.


Another advantage printed books have over their electronic alternatives is their assistance in developing the concepts of print. The book’s physical nature makes the child notice that a book has front and back covers, where to find the title, author’s name and even a little summary. The page layout and orientation in printed formats play a sizable role in helping one associate the illustrations with the words. The layout and text alignment enable the child to learn to read from left to right and top to bottom. Even complex behaviour like the “return sweep” when moving from one line to the next become more intuitive when using print. Text spacing while present in digital formats too, is more profound in printed books, enabling young readers to distinguish between letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs.


So don’t give those storybooks to charity yet, because children do gain a lot from both these mediums. “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” says Emilie Buchwald, the award-winning children’s author, and we doubt that technology will replace good parents and good teachers.


Reading to your child from screens and books puts you in charge of making sure your child gets the best that both the print and electronic worlds have to offer.


It is therefore not really a choice between print or screen but more a decision to do both print and screen in a manner appropriate for your child.


When you read to your child, pause to maintain a dialogue, point out the page’s objects and talk about what’s next in the plot, because the essentials of child development is a fellow human to connect with.


Guest Blog by: Prriety Gosalia

Chief Content Officer, Early Years, Navneet Education Limited


© All rights reserved. No part of these pages may be copied, adapted, abridged or translated, stored in any retrieval system, computer system, photographic or other system or transmitted in any form or by any means without a prior written permission of the copyright holders, M/s. Navneet Education Limited. Any breach will entail legal action and prosecution without further notice.

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