Computer games affect maths and reading skills

Children who spend more time on computer games, watching TV or online have poorer maths and reading skills.

A study of 8,000 Irish primary pupils also found those who spend more time with their friends performed poorest on the national assessments of reading in 2014.

The findings have led researchers to suggest parents limit time their children spend on all these activities.

Students who had TVs in their bedrooms and those with mobiles, scored significantly lower than others. However, test results for pupils with firm rules on behaviour at home and who completed their homework show they did significantly better than other children.

The Educational Research Centre (ERC) report of over 8,000 second-class and sixth-class pupils at 150 primary schools in 2014 shows that:

  • 31% of 2nd-class pupils play computer games most days and score significantly lower at reading. They tested far lower in maths than even those who do so some days.
  • Pupils who go online occasionally are significantly better at reading and maths than those who use the internet every day. However, those who never go online at home did not score much higher than the most regular internet users.
  • The average reading score for sixth-class pupils who hardly ever read stories or novels was 239. It was 280 for those who do so every or most days.
  • The 47% of second-class pupils with a TV in their bedrooms got scores in maths and reading that were, on average, at least 30 below those who did not.
  • Nearly half of children read books for fun most days and are significantly better at reading than others.
  • The 10% of children who never play sports scored far lower at maths than the 52% who played most days.
  • Children finding maths homework hard may be more likely to seek online help or use a calculator.

The ERC authors suggest the need for a stronger role to be taken by parents in setting rules on behaviour and activities. They said that schools should have a role in empowering and guiding parents on things that can positively influence their ability in reading and maths.

“The findings of this study show that there are many ways in which parents from all backgrounds can successfully support their children’s reading and maths achievement. Schools may have an important role to play in empowering parents to do so,” said one of the authors, Lauren Kavanagh.

The links which have been highlighted by previous Irish research between reading scores and books at home are again identified in the ERC’s report. There were direct associations between higher reading scores and parents who read more often for leisure or set aside time for their children to do so, pupils doing so more regularly than others, or those who were joined libraries.

But the type of material children are reading is also crucial, as children who regularly read magazines and comics had lower reading scores. One-in-five second-class pupils read magazines or comics in their own time most days, but have far lower reading scores than even the one-in-three who sometimes do so.

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