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E-devices Hinder Reading Development in China

2013-02-06

Studies have shown that the brain and hand work closely together when learning how to write. New digital learning methods hinder learning how to write; this is currently leading to problems, especially in China.

A study by scientists from the University of Hong Kong has recently been published in the PNAS journal: The subject group, 6000 students in the 4th and 5th grade, each had to read out 300 characters from age-appropriate books. This caused serious problems for every third student.

Scientists see the reason for this in a new learning method used at Chinese schools – the “Pinyin Method”, a computer-based learning method. The children have to enter the sound of the desired word (e.g. “li” for the word “pear”) on a Latin keyboard and then select the correct character from the 113 different meanings of the word “li”.

Previously, children have learnt to read the characters by repetitively drawing the symbols on paper, thus the form and meaning of the character were linked and anchored in the memory, the scientists explain. With the new computer-based learning method this is no longer the case. In comparison, children who often use the computer when learning, have the worst performance despite having the same intelligence. The Pinyin-method should not replace writing by hand; however, it reflects a global trend that enables learning to be as easy as possible.

For many Chinese, learning the basic characters is only the basis for using the computer’s keyboard, the cultural meaning of the characters will be lost. Scientists however see the cultural techniques of reading and writing as globally in danger. A reduced amount of longer texts is being read and less and less texts are being written by hand.

Pen and paper are not only losing importance in China, this also occurs for example in Sweden, where children in the 1st grade partly learn how to write with computers at first and then with pens. Scientists from Hong Kong warn against such developments, as writing by hand leads to better reading skills and learning contents are remembered better.

Studies from France show that the brain automates movement sequences when writing by hand and that it links each movement to the letter. In doing so, certain brain areas, with which we can virtually see and feel the letters, are activated. For this purpose, the letter movements are saved as sensomotoric stimuli.

Conclusion: According to scientists, in order for children to be able to develop the necessary neuronal network in the brain that is needed for reading, they have to learn how to read and how to write at the same time. Reading can be defined as “inner writing”. However, even when merely typing on the keyboard, the necessary sensomotoric stimuli are missing.

Source: Frankfurter Rundschau


(Image: flickr-user Renato Ganoza with a Creative Commons-licence CC BY 2.0, 6th February 2013)

 
 

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