Reading printed materials improves literacy and engagement on multiple levels: New report

Students who read printed books more often perform better in reading, spend more time reading, and enjoy reading – much more than students who read mostly from digital devices. Reading digital texts more frequently even shows “a negative association with reading performance.” These are among the headline findings of a new OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) special report: 21st Century Readers: Developing Literacy Skills in a Digital World. In a compelling report published this month, the organizations revealed that students perform better when they read from printed materials rather than from digital devices. This research sends a clear signal to parents and teachers that more must be done to safeguard reading in print, for the future of education.

Overall, approximately one-third of students rarely or never read books, according to the OECD/PISA report. Whereas one-third read books more often in paper format, 15% read them more often on digital devices, and 13% read equally often in paper and digital formats. These figures are alarming, the study concluded. While it’s positive that printed books remain the preferred medium for reading, two-thirds of students are not reading enough – or enough in print – to acquire the best chance of developing strong literacy skills. “This will have far-reaching ramifications,” the organizations said. “Developing strong literacy skills is crucial in our knowledge-saturated digital societies. Young people must be given the best tools to navigate digital environments autonomously, and cut through the ‘noise’ of ‘fake news’ and disinformation. The best tool for reading is proven to be print.”

The OECD is not the first organization to publish such clear findings. Intergraf has long promoted the results of its COST Action E-READ Initiative, a large-scale research initiative which found in 2018 that reading printed materials is better for young people’s educational outcomes when it comes to comprehension, concentration, critical thinking and deep reading. So again, it’s firmly established that print is the best tool for developing the necessary literacy skills to thrive in our digital world now and in the future. Some of the report’s most relevant findings are summarized below:

Print is better when reading for enjoyment

The OECD/PISA report confirms that there’s a “clear relationship between reading printed books and enjoyment” – regardless of whether students read equally often on paper and on digital devices, or more often on paper.

Students who read printed materials perform better

In all participating countries, students who reported reading books more often in paper format than digital format, performed better in reading and spent more time reading for pure enjoyment. The report goes on to explain that “education systems in which a higher percentage of students read books more often on paper, perform better in reading than education systems in which students read books more often using digital devices.”

Students read print longer

The study revealed that students who reported reading books more often on digital devices read about 3 hours more per week than those who reported that they rarely or never read books at all. On the other hand, students who reported reading books more often in paper format read about 4 hours more a week on average. Most importantly, students who reported reading books equally often in paper format and on digital devices read about 5 hours or more a week than those who reported that they rarely or never read books (after taking into consideration socio-economic background and gender).

Reading digital text more often can be detrimental to reading performance

Reading digital texts more frequently than printed texts actually showed a “negative association with reading performance” after accounting for the student’s and schools’ socio-economic profiles.” The report asserts that: “the time teachers spend using digital devices in teaching and learning activities, is often negatively associated with reading performance.” Also according to the report, digital technologies can ‘amplify’ learning – but “providing access and promoting the use of digital tools does not automatically lead to better results.”

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