The book is dead. Long live the Xbox!

Literacy rates are low and one in three children in the UK does not even own a book, a new survey has revealed. Are we witnessing the end of traditional reading?

Nearly four million British children do not own a single book, according to a survey conducted by the National Literacy Trust (NLT). With libraries struggling as local budgets are slashed, the number of children with no regular access to traditional reading material outside of school is growing fast.

Low child literacy rates in the UK are already causing concern. One in six school starters is unable even to write their own name.

And the results of this new survey show that the lack of books could be part of the problem: children who don’t own books have been found to read at a noticeably lower level than those who do.

Similar surveys in the USA and Germany have also shown a strong positive correlation between book ownership and academic prowess. The German study even demonstrated this to be true regardless of other socio-economic factors, such as parental education and variety of language used in the home.

The UK study reflects the fact that more and more people across the globe are turning to technology for their entertainment. But this does not mean young people are reading Kindles instead of paperbacks. In fact, ebooks came a distant last in a list of materials children read outside of the classroom. Meanwhile, the Xbox, Playstation 3, iPhone and iPad have all topped lists of bestselling Christmas gifts in recent years.

The stories of Blyton, Barrie and Dahl that fuelled the fantasies of previous generations are being replaced by more interactive forms of fiction. The newest Call of Duty video game, which sold an enormous 12 million copies in the first five days after its November release, is expected to appear under more Christmas trees than any other product this year. By contrast, fully a fifth of British children have never been given a book as a gift.

Bookless Britain

The dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 depicts a terrifying society where books are banned – but would such a society really be all that bad? Some employers believe that in fact, video games may prepare children better than books for the fast-paced modern world. Decision making and problem solving are useful tools that can be acquired through interactive game play, while a deeper understanding of technology will be crucial if future generations are to succeed in business.

Traditionalists reply that modern entertainment overloads the senses with noise and colour. It is precisely the simplicity of old-fashioned books that allows young readers to flex their minds. Perhaps they are less useful in practical terms, but nothing, in the end, enriches life more than the exercise of the imagination.

You Decide

  1. Does reading fiction provide more than entertainment? Does it matter?
  2. How important is imagination in helping us to navigate the modern world?


  1. Write a review of a book you have read recently, recommending it (or not) to your classmates.
  2. Conduct your own survey of what pupils in your class do for entertainment. Create a visual presentation of your findings to show to the class.

Some People Say...

“Too much time spent staring at screens is numbing the minds of today’s youth.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What does it actually mean to be ‘literate’?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the ‘ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.’ Basically, being able to read and write about a variety of different things.
And how do you improve literacy rates?
There are various ways, but one of the best is by encouraging people to read. The greater the variety of language that people are exposed to, the more they are able to express themselves. Interestingly, the NLT survey also showed that the more children read, the more they enjoy it. Just as people describe computer games as ‘addictive’, the more reading you do, the more you want to do it.

Word Watch

Positive correlation
‘Correlation’ means a relationship between two sets of data. A positive correlation means that when you do something to one set, the same thing happens to the other. In this case, it means that when you increase the number of books people own, you also increase the amount they achieve.
Socio-economic factors
Factors relating to the social and financial background of an individual, such as where they live and how much they earn.
Blyton, Barrie and Dahl
Enid Blyton, author of The Famous Five series; J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan; Roald Dahl, author of many children’s books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.
Depicting a society where everything is bad. The opposite of ‘Utopia’, which is the perfect society.
Fahrenheit 451
A 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury. Massive TV screens cover three walls of everyone’s living room, while all books are gathered up and burned. 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature of burning paper.


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