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Reading, the lost habit in our ever growing world of gadgets and technology.

Updated on March 28, 2013

Shocking Facts

  • 1 in 4 children in London leaves primary school at 11 unable to read or write properly
  • 1 in 5 leaves secondary school without being able to read or write with confidence.
  • 1 in 6 working adults in the capital cannot read with confidene. Nationally 5% of adults in England have literacy skills either at below the level of a 7 year old.
  • 16% is the estimated proportion of 16 to 65 year olds with the reading age of an 11 year old. Of these about 5% are believed to have skills at the same level or below that of a 7 year old.
  • 40% of 11 year old inner city primary schools have a reading age of between six and nine when they start secondary school.
  • 1 in 5 pupils at inner London schools has special educational needs such as dyslexia
  • 40% of London employees have poor literacy skills and report that it has a negative impact on their business.

Source: Evening Standard

Why reading has taken a backseat.

I will never forget the title of one of the books that formed part of our home library when I was one of four sisters living with my parents. It simply read reading is fun. Reading formed part of our daily routine growing up. Our parents encouraged us to read and we acquired a love for reading as a result. Reading became a competitive habit in my household. It was about who could read the most books, find the most new words and remember the story in detail subsequently. It was a healthy and enjoyable practice, one which would see us gaining top marks in our English grammar and English Literature courses in later years.

I think its safe to say that is not the case anymore because we live in an era where technology with its attendant mind blowing gadgets have dominated the intellect. Children these days talk about the latest games consoles which are flooding the market and which ones they will get for their next birthday or christmas. Very exhausting I think and certainly a drain on the pockets of the poor parents who succumb to the evergrowing needs of these gadget starving children. As we all know these gadgets don't come cheap. What happened to buying books for children and encouraging them to read? What happened to encouraging sights of children flicking through endless pages of brightly coloured pages with fun pictures to look at and interesting stories to tickle the high imagination of their developing minds? What happened to parents encouraging their children to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of literacy? One answer comes to mind. Reading has become a lost habit, struggling to compete with the constantly evolving nature of the amazing and fascinating world of technology.

One of my friends has a four year old boy, and being the old fashioned parent that I am I was surprised to see him playing feverishly on a Nintendo DS game. He was really immersed the game - mario kart I think it was called, to the extent that when his mum called out to him, he didn't hear a word of what she said. When I asked why her young son had a Nintendo DS, she said it keeps him busy and gives her the chance to focus on other things.

I would be a complete liar to say I have never been fascinated by these games consoles myself. I admit I have always toyed with the idea of buying a Wii, Play Station or what are the others called ? Hold on, just checking with my kids, and they are ticking them off (shocked, because they don't own any of these gadgets) -PSP, Nintendo DSI, Nintendo DS lite, PSP1, PSP2, PSP3, XBOX connect, XBOX live, Nintendo 3DS...phew, I thought they'd never finish, but apparently there are other types? Wow. Reasons why I decided not to purchase any of these game consoles was that firstly I found them ludicrously expensive. Secondly, I asked myself why they needed them because there were other means of entertaining themselves apart from getting hooked on these games. Having the world's cheapest babysitter (TV) was enough, plus they had the desktop PC to play games on when they were permitted to do so, hence in my books they were more than in touch with the ever growing techi world.

Eventually I bought a Nintendo DS for my oldest on his 9th birthday. This was three years ago. My husband wasn't pleased at all. He has never being an advocate for game consoles. Suffice to say he never will. I decided to try the theory of addiction to these gadgets on my son. The games console came as a deal with two games - Thriville and Spyro. What ensued left me nothing short of convinced that these games can be and are addictive. From the time my son woke up one morning during the school holidays to the time he wound up for the evening, he spent 90% of his waking moment playing on this games console. He didn't want to do anything else. Getting him to eat was a chore. He seemed to find the ultimate satisfaction, simply by being immersed in this wonderful world of Nintendo. Most of my friends have kids with games consoles and they always justify their purchase with the fact that children can be monitored in the use of these games. I guess they have a point, but to what extent can you get their minds off the knowledge that these games exist for them to pounce on whenever they see the greenlight?

The trend of possessing the latest gadgets seems to have gripped the daily commuters on the train as well. About 9 years ago when I used to travel to work by train, I constantly saw people with their noses buried either in newspapers, books or magazines. I must admit, it always impressed me to see so many people have such an interest in reading. I quickly learnt to adopt the habit of 'mobile' reading as well, by either grabbing a copy of the free daily newspapers from the stands before jumping onto the train, or I always had a story book in my bag to read on my way to and from work.

Well that was then. What I witnessed yesterday on the train was very different from 9years ago. I don't use the train much if ever these days, because I work locally now hence can afford to drive to work. Yesterday was one of the rare times that I found myself on the train. I didn't have anything to read, hence decided to sweep my eyes round the coach. Within seconds it dawned on me that almost everyone who was within my line of sight was fidgeting with some kind of gadget or the other. My guess was either they were playing games, checking emails, browsing the net or social networking. Suffice to say I found it incredulously surprising.

How ironic was it then, that I happened to pick up a copy of the free London Evening Standard shortly after that with the cover story title being - City of children who can't read.

The sad reality

  • 1 in 3 children says he or she does not own a book

Amazingly though

  • 85% of children aged 8 to 15 own a games console
  • 81% of them own a mobile phone

Source: Evening Standard

If you think about it the language of texting on mobile phones is not doing our children any favours. The abbreviated words and jargons are destroying their ability to spell correctly. I always insist that when my son sends me a text he uses the full words and not the short forms as he is still learning how to read and write properly.

The frightening reality of it all

I simpy have to share with you the gist of what I read in the newspaper yesterday. It defies belief and I honestly would have had a hard time believing it if I had learnt this by word of mouth.

According to the a research carried out by this newspaper, one in four children is practically illiterate when they leave primary school.

It is no news that London is swamped with amazing bookshops, libraries, publishers and writers, however the newspaper goes on to state that even though London is a world centre for the written word, one in three children grows up without a single book of their own.

One in four pupils aged 11 cannot read or write properly. One in five school leavers is unable to read confidently.

My initial reaction was shock. I couldn't believe it. However by the time I had read through these facts, I wondered how this could be possible. The feature goes on to report on how a nine year old brought the Argos Catalogue to school explaining that it was the only book that she had at home following a request by the class teacher for all children in the class to bring in story books. At this point I was in total disbelief. The Argos Catalogue advertises a large variation of products, from domestic appliances, to beauty products, toys and games, electric appliance...the list is endless.

In my children's school reading is a habit which is encouraged without fail. Children are taught to spend 20 minutes daily reading a book of their choice and recording details of it in what they refer to as a reading record book. I always believe that a child can never have too many books, and that goes for adults too. As the child grows and becomes more eloquent and advanced in their way of thinking and anaylsing, the books they are encouraged to choose and use should grow with their intellect.

Reading is a habit which should be encouraged and adopted at an early stage, and even though the situation looks bleak at the moment, all is not lost. We need to nurture this all important habit in our children. Reading is the foundation for learning. It affects everything. Research shows that if you cannot read, your ability to analyse and tackle scientific and mathematical problems is limited because of a lack of an ability to grasp the problem.

Charity begins at home, hence the duty of care lies first with us parents and the adults that these future leaders are living and growing up with. We have to encourage our children to develop a love for reading. Let's remember reading is not a chore, reading is and can be fun.


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    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you Pramodgokhale.

    • pramodgokhale profile image


      6 years ago from Pune( India)

      Illiteracy and poverty go hand in hand. As long as there is no total eradication of poverty.

      Ma'am it's thoughtful and in- depth study that i was ignited to look around community ,poor and weak unable to get benefit.

      Feudal and affluent class dominates everywhere, road block to human development and literacy.

      waiting for such thoughtful articles from you.

      pramod gokhale

    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Pramodgokhale, thank you for your insightful comment. Literacy does indeed seem to be an illusion for the grass root people. Will there however be total literacy everywhere in the world? Even in the so called developed countries there are unacceptable levels of illiteracy. Illiteracy and poverty go hand in hand. As long as there is no total eradication of poverty, there will always be high levels of illiteracy.

    • pramodgokhale profile image


      6 years ago from Pune( India)

      Yes ma'am

      Reading has taken backseat. I am a retired person , in my child hood i used to read books in government library in our city.Government subsidies also do good jobs and reading takes us to knowledge, finally first step towards full literacy. India is struggling with literacy mission. Total literacy is still a distant dream, goals are plenty but implementation is important.Sincere governments can achieve such goals.

      In third world hard and paperback books can serve purpose of literacy instead expensive computers, gadgets. India is growing but grass root people are deprived of such advanced equipment because of paucity

      of funds

      Good article.

      pramod gokhale

    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      I agree totally. A habit learnt is difficult to break, so if we all work together as you have commented to instill this beautiful habit, I am sure even if it takes a while eventually succeed. Here's to the habit of reading! Thanks for stopping by to read and share your thoughts Ripplemaker, much appreciated.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Nothing beats a good fact I just bought two books today! hehehehe We can't control what happens at home but in our preschool, we make sure that the kids have reading time. And it is a joy seeing them learn to read and enjoy books! Let's all work together to foster this love for reading.

    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi PegCole17, great to hear from you. I salute reading is fun all the way. Since reading the feature in the newspaper about the decline in the level of literacy in London I have been affirmed in my belief that reading is important. It broadens the intellect and sets your thoughts thinking and questioning. A great way to educate oneself, unfortunately not as addictive for our techno gripped universe, but still a habit that can be adopted and acquired. The new level of technology comes with its appealing, eyecatching and addictive nature, however as you rightly said it comes with its attendant convenience. The bottom line is parents need to know when to draw the line and enforce restrictions so that our children know that whilst technology comes with its benefits and side attractions, there are tons of benefits that can be derived from being book conscious. Thanks for stopping by to read and share your comments PegCole17. Loved the last sentence of your comment. Restriction and self discipline is always good. Thanks again!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      It is refreshing to read your perspective on buying your kids every techno toy that comes out. Your family was much like mine in that we played board games as a family and spent quality reading time together. We learned by example that reading could be fun and enjoyable.

      The new technology is truly addictive and destructive at the same time as it is convenient. I remember years ago playing Space Invaders for so long that my thumbs were raw. Even now I have to restrict the time I allow to be burned up with my devices.

      Good reading here.

    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Jill Deibel, its so refreshing to read your comments and I agree with you about your thoughts on the electronic books. There is a different feel to holding and reading a paperback or hardcover story than it is to read it electronically. Hopefully sharing will help others to spread the message about finding the balance between the streams of technology and literacy. Thanks for stopping by to read and post your comments.

    • profile image

      Jill Deibel 

      8 years ago

      As an English Major, I applaud your article! While I find it necessary to "keep up with the times" to a certain degree, there needs to be a balance. Moderation of technology is a must, and reading actual books (not Kindles, e-books, books on tape, etc)is absolutely essential to one's development. I remember reading Fahrenheit 451 in high school--that was the temperature at which books were burned. If we depend soley on technology, we never know who will ultimately be controlling what is out there to read. We need to be able to hold the written word and read it for ourselves so we do not succumb to the control of others and fall back into the Dark Ages. Thanks for sharing your statistics. I hope it is widely read!

    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      JS I just posted a comment in response to yours, which I seem to have lost! Starting again...:)

      My dear friend thanks as always for reading and sharing your very insightful comments.

      I find that my boys loved reading a lot when they were younger, now it's a chore to get them to read, hence I have enforced a reading routine in conjunction with their school's policy to ensure that they read for 20minutes everyday. They moan a lot, but eventually they settle down to read because in my books its not a choice for them. I work full time so for me this is the only way. I always tell them that eventually they will appreciate that they have developed the habit of reading and thank me for pushing them in this direction.

      The companies who produce these gadgets are in it purely to make money at the expense of our children. Ultimately though we parents have the power to decide which path we want our children to follow, we can decide to create freaks of technology or bookworms with an attitude, or we can creat a balance. The two can go hand in hand because if managed correctly learning and development can be achieved both ways. Parents, should make this decision. We cannot blame the companies for our children's addictive behaviours to these gadgets. We have to take the responsibility.

      As you rightly said, outdoor play its awesome. We should encourage outdoor play, visits to the libraries, a stroll when the sun is out... Its amazing how kids remember the love for everything outdoors when we parents make the effort to share in this experience with them.

      Thanks for stopping by to read. Great comments there, very much appreciated as always :)

    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hyphenbird, I can not stress this enough, you have a gem of a son. Its great to know that he loves reading.

      Its scary when parents leave all the learning and development to the teachers. In an ideal world this should not be an issue, reality however paints a different picture. I agree with you about parental controls where the games consoles are concerned. We as parents should be able to instill this discipline in our children. There should be a balance across all aspects of learning. Thank for reading and sharing your handy piece of advice on games consoles.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      What a wonderful Hub, PK2010! You shed light on a problem that is getting worse, instead of getting better. These games and gadgets are becoming the modern baby sitters.

      It is sad that parents feel a need to entertain their children! When I was growing up, much like they way you describe growing up, I read often and spent most of my time riding my bike and playing outside.

      I have the same problem with my children as all they want to do is watch TV, surf the web, hang on FaceBook, and play Xbox. I get very upset sometimes because they get no exercise or fresh air.

      The companies that design, sell and market these electronics are raising our children. I am scared to think of the future when the next generation can't read or write or communicate effectively.

      Even though schools promote reading, the most important factor is parents reading and urging their kids to read. This should be done on a daily basis and as a family, when practical. This is a very scary time. Great usual!


    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      8 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Here in America, parents depend upon the school system to teach children everything. It is scary how they relinquish control.

      I am so thankful that my son loves to read. He has hundreds of books and reads at a level two or three grades higher. I firmly believe reading opens the door to all other education and life interests.

      We do have a WII and my son has a DS. I love them, they make great discipline tools and motivations. They also have helped him with his fine motor skills. He was born early and his biological mom used drugs in the first trimester so he had a few issues. These games are like most everything else, useful when parents administer usage.

      Thanks for a great Hub.

    • PK2010 profile imageAUTHOR

      Anthea Kwaw 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hey Dex, thanks for stopping by as always! I totally appreciate that you take the time to read and leave insightful comments. Love the "copy and paste" expression to describe the generation, but you couldn't have been more right. Makes me wonder whether technology is doing us more harm than good. I guess with everything moderation and good sense is the way forward. As you rightly pointed out, parents have the ultimate task of turning their kids into analytical bookworms and not techno whizkids empty of substance. Thanks for reading and sharing :)

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      8 years ago from United States

      Anthea, I couldn't agree more with your hub! While growing up, I had a passion for reading and books. My parents made sure reading was essential in my home education. The situation in London is frightening as it is here in the States.

      As I stated in the outstanding hub you previously wrote, technology, with all of its conveniences, has turned a generation into a "copy and paste" one. They have no time for reading due to the availability of social media, Internet, etc. Moreover, texting doesn't help because it encourages shortening words and some kids already can't spell.

      But ultimately, parents are responsible for ensuring that their kids are well-educated. Placing them in front of a TV or game console for long periods of time is not a good thing. I am hopeful that with the new E-books and more parental involvement, more kids will start reading again.

      Great topic for discussion!


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