Technology engages boys and poorer children to read for longer

The National Literacy Trust and Pearson release second annual survey data on the role of technology in supporting young children’s communication and language skills


Touch-screen technology could be a vital new weapon to combat low literacy in key target groups: boys and disadvantaged children. New research published today by the National Literacy Trust and Pearson reveals that technology can be a more engaging learning tool for disadvantaged children at age three to five, than books:

  • Twice as many young children from DE households than from AB households read stories on a touch-screen for longer than they read printed stories (29.5% vs 17.4%)
  • A higher number of children from DE households than AB households use technology more for educational activities than for entertainment (43.2% vs 30.4%)

The findings also show the benefits of using touch-screen technology for boys, who engage with reading and educational activities for longer than with books alone.

  • Twice as many boys as girls look at or read stories on a touch-screen for longer than they look at or read printed stories (24.0% vs 12.0%)
  • More boys than girls use a touch screen for educational activities than for entertainment (36.0% vs. 28.2%)

In the second Early Years Literacy Survey carried out by the National Literacy Trust and Pearson, parents and early years practitioners responded to questions on their access, use and attitudes to books and stories on touch-screen devices with children aged three to five. The research examines the influence of reading practices on children’s vocabulary aged three to five.

The findings highlight the increasingly significant role that technology plays in the lives of under-fives, both at home and in their pre-school educational environment:

  • 91.7% of children aged three to five have access to touch-screen technology at home
  • Access to touch screens in early years settings has doubled since 2013 (from 22% to 41.3%
  • Nearly a third of all parents (30%) say their children read stories on both a touch screen and on paper compared to 70% of parents who say that their children read books only in a typical week

A varied reading diet could also be a route to improved vocabulary, according to the new findings. Children aged three to five have a wider vocabulary if they read stories in both print form and on a touch-screen compared to those who don’t use technology (20% vs. 15%).


The research also looks into the use of technology in early years educational settings, and finds that the majority of pre-school teachers and practitioners say they want more access to touch-screen technology (60%). However, practitioners feel far more confident sharing stories with children on paper rather than on a touch screen (90% vs. 55%), and a quarter do not think technology has a place in their pre-school educational environment.

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust says:

Our second Early Years Literacy Survey with Pearson throws up very interesting evidence on the positive impact of combining technology with books on pre-school children’s vocabulary. Children’s early language and vocabulary skills lay the foundation for their future success and it is crucial that we recognise the opportunities that technology brings for engaging boys and poorer children in reading.

Our research confirms that technology is playing a central role in young children’s vocabulary development. Nearly all children have access to a touch-screen device at home and as technology advances and digital skills become increasingly important, we need to harness these developments to encourage children to become avid readers, whatever format they choose.”

Pearson announced in September that it would be directing its flagship social impact campaigns towards improving literacy rates over the next five years. Julie McCulloch, Director of Policy and Thought Leadership, Pearson UK, says:

“This research highlights the shifts in literacy learning that are enabled and driven by technology, both in the home and in more formal settings. We’ll be exploring how we can do more to support parents and practitioners to make the most of these trends to support improved outcomes for young people, in the UK and around the world.”

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