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Technology vs. Reading

January 17, 2013

Chinese children’s reading development has gone downhill since electronic communication technologies became common.



Can technology impede learning? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Technology may be getting in the way of learning to read in China. Unlike English, Chinese writing is based on characters instead of sounds. Children there have traditionally learned to read by associating handwritten Chinese characters with their meanings. But many children now learn using the pinyin input method, which turns the sounds of Chinese characters into English letters. This makes it easy to write in Chinese on electronic devices, but according to University of Hong Kong social scientist Li Hai Tan, it also impedes reading development. He and his colleagues studied over 5000 school children in mainland China. He says 28% of them have severe reading difficulties, a dramatic increase over 10 years ago, before electronic communication devices became common. Since the digital age is here to stay, he says educators must team up with computer scientists to design technology that enhances learning, rather than getting in the way. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

A child practices traditional Chinese handwriting, which helps him learn the meaning of the characters. (Li Hai Tan/University of Hong Kong)