More children in Britain are coming into school each year with poor reading and vocabulary skills. British Education Secretary Damian Hinds is concerned about what this could mean for the future of the children and the country.
The UK Department for Education found that 28 percent of kids starting school, aged 4 to 5 years-old, aren't reading or speaking at the level they should be. The DfE's research also warned that children who don't have a grasp on language are more likely to be unemployed by age 34.
Hinds wants to improve declining literacy rates in Britain's youth through free smartphone apps. In a speech given July 31, Hinds set a lofty goal to cut the number of children struggling in school in half by 2028. He's doing so by launching a competition within his department to identify the best mobile apps to help kids develop the skills they need.
Hinds said he wants technology to be involved in helping teach children, but also acknowledges that it's also part of the problem. The education secretary also voiced concern over Fortnite game addiction.
"Whilst there are legitimate worries about screen time, media and modern technology can also help to raise awareness and build parents' confidence around what they can do to help their child's early language development," he said in his speech.
Lisa Guernsey, director of the Learning Technologies Project at New America, said apps aren't a long term solution. She says the apps don't support a full range of literacy skills, and focus instead on basic letter identification and associating the letters with sounds.
"Reading with an adult and practicing these skills with a parent at home will always be the ideal scenario," Colleen Russo Johnson, co-director of the Children's Media Lab at Ryerson University said. "But we know this is not always the case, and it's better to supplement with something rather than nothing."
The willingness of Britain's government to invest money in apps might seem like a band-aid-on-a-bullet-wound solution. Britain's education budget per pupil has been axed by eight percent since 2010. Also in that time frame, almost 500 public libraries have closed their doors, 67 shut down in 2016 alone.
It seems a strange move when a library survey taken earlier this year showed 82 percent of parents saying libraries help their kids prepare for school. 85 percent of parents said the libraries helped their children's speaking and listening skills improve.
"Technology needs to be meaningfully implemented into libraries and schools, and thus in children's lives," Russo Johnson said. "It doesn't matter how amazing an app is, we can't simply hand a tablet off to a parent and expect it to be used in the intended way."
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- British Education Secretary Damian Hinds wants to cut the number of children with reading and communication problems in half in the next 10 years by using apps.
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