Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are Facebook and Twitter turning us into an illiterate society?

When I was a kid, my mum had a rule: when we went to bed, we had quiet time for half an hour in bed before lights out, and at exactly thirty minutes, she would come in and turn our lights out. My brother and sister did all sorts of things. My sister would draw or play with her dolls, my brother would build Lego or Kennex, but I would always have my head buried in a book. Often she would have to wait for me to "just finish this chapter", and then she would turn my light out and go to bed.

For years I had a torch hidden under my pillow and as soon as I heard  mum's last footstep on the top of the stairs, I got out my torch and hid under the blankets to continue reading about the adventures of The Famous Five or the twisting tale of the Bubblegum Tree. On rainy days instead of watching TV, I would be curled up on the couch reading. My proudest moments at school were taking the reading tests and being told I was reading at a level well above my age. I always borrowed far too many books from the library and constantly had books overdue.

When I read this story this morning, it made me sad to know that less than half of all British children aged eight to seventeen choose to read a book outside of class at least once a month.

It said that children are now increasingly getting their literacy skills from Facebook, Twitter, emails and texting, the language and grammar of which, in my opinion, leaves a lot to be desired.

Don't get me wrong, social networking is amazing, and I love it because it allows me to keep in touch with people I met overseas who I would otherwise lose touch with. Then again, isn't it nice to sometimes receive a well-written letter in the post? My American friend Hannah, who I met three years ago, and I exchange letters, and there is nothing more exciting than getting home from work and finding a hand-written envelope in your mailbox.

So now there is a real fear out there that more and more adults will start struggling with literacy over the next few years because, as children, they just didn't read. Putting the literacy factor aside, I am also so saddened by the fact that these children are missing out on the joy of books - the excitement of being transported into another world while curled up in bed at night, and the discoveries you make about life.

I'm sure most people with kids following this blog will have no problem getting their kids to read, and my future children will definitely know the joy of books, but what about the rest? How do we get kids off Facebook and into a good book?

1 comment:

  1. Well said Sarah! I can so relate to the torch and the mystery book stashed under the pillow (with lashings of sneaky pleasure).
    I too am concerned about children not reading books and the bad habits that develop when facebook/twitter/mobile phones/social media are the main written input. In many cases, poor literary skills ultimately manifest themselves into poor speaking skills, which become a liability in adult life. I feel more needs to be done to encourage young minds to embrace books, and expand their minds and language skills.
    One positive influence I can think of, is the state government funded Premier's reading challenges in some Australian states. You may have them in NZ as well. Essentially, each year children choose books from an extensive age-based list (compiled in co-ordination with public and school libraries), and are presented with a medal on completion of the challenge. As each year passes and the challenges mount, the medal and status gets progressively more impressive. It makes reading fun, challenging, even competitive, and something to be shared with classmates. I think methods such as these need to be explored. If it takes governments to get on board, then so be it! We need to encourage children to read any way we can, and make reading cool again!