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Balls blames parents, computers for English literacy slide

Bubblewrapping's too good for them

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Ed Balls has again weighed into parents who insist on bubblewrapping their children and leaving them in front of the computer, after research showed British kids have slipped down the world’s literacy league.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study released this week shows that English schoolchildren had slipped from third to 15th in a league table of reading skills covering 40 countries. At the top, Russian children copped an average of 565 points in the survey, while England’s Wii-addled youth managed a paltry 539.

The results are a horror story for a government that has put education, education, education at the top of its political agenda.

Secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families immediately weighed into those responsible. Yes, it’s affluent parents who are not forcing their children to read in their spare time, while allowing them to be distracted by computers, mobile phones, games, and, presumably, sun-dried tomatoes, pasta-making machines and culturally-enriching holidays abroad.

"This study shows that our highest-achieving children are reading less, with children's busy days leaving less time for books at home. As parents we have to get the balance right and as a society we have to send the right messages about the value of reading to our children,” said Balls.

The government notes that "the amount of time spent playing computer and video games has increased and is amongst the highest internationally.” Over a third of children reported playing computer or video games for more than three hours a day, and “this amount of time playing computer and video games was associated with lower attainment on the PIRLS assessment, in England and most other countries."

Yet, strangely: "Access at home to a computer, a desk or table to study at, books of their own and a daily newspaper were all strongly associated with higher achievement in PIRLS."

Clearly computers are bad for kids' literacy if the kids actually use them. If they’re just there, but not turned on, they obviously encourage children to read.

More concretely, perhaps, two-thirds of the children in England reported having their own mobile phone, and “this was negatively associated with achievement on the PIRLS tests. Possession of their own television (72 per cent of children from England) was also negatively associated with achievement."

So, the solution is simple. Hide their phones, turn off the computer but don’t put it away. And put down that roll of bubblewrap. ®

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