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Parents' and teachers' report on students' use of the computer and its impact on reading and writing skills

Odette Radi
The University of Melbourne


This paper presents a pilot study based on a small sample of 52 Year 8 students (aged 13 to 14 years old), in a co-educational intermediate metropolitan school in Victoria - Australia. This presentation reports on the parents' and teachers' observations and responses on students' use of computers and whether it has an impact on the development of their literacy (reading and writing) skills. No other factors/variables have been looked at such as cultural background, family life, television time, sports activities, background history, or any previous samples are compared.

Purpose of the study

The main focus of the study stemmed from my personal observation over the years as a classroom teacher in the area of computer studies. With the increased use of computers in both domestic and school environments, students have displayed more interest in the use of computers. Their reading and writing skills have shifted emphasis in the development from reading the printed text into the use of the electronic medium. This shift has had a bearing on the development of literacy skills that may decrease the influence of the printed text.

The literature review has revealed a considerable disagreement on issues concerning the scale and pace of change that is liable to be associated with the increased use of computers at home as well as in the education system (Beynon and Mackay 1993: 1-18). However, the diversity of literacy issues including language and computer literacy is of a continuing interest, especially, in a way these literacies affect each other. There are views that strongly support the use of IT both at school and at home. These views suggest that by engaging in IT interaction, (Tapscott 1998), school age children will acquire computer literacy, which may improve their learning in other areas. According to a report of the Department of Education (1998), incorporating Learning Technologies into all learning areas might assist the reluctant learners and those who are experiencing learning difficulties. On the other hand, an opposing view, (Lankshear et al 1997), is that the increased use of IT can distract and deskill our children from learning and practising the basics of handwriting, writing and reading skills. Some of the literature implied that the use of IT still requires adequate literacy skills in order to interpret and comprehend accessible information (Goss 1997: 15). Handwriting is another aspect of the literacy issue and is an integral part of literacy development (Cook 1997: 3-4). The lack of handwriting practice is due to the almost exclusive use of computers for writing.

Research methodology

Throughout the study, the research applied the ethnographic method to test the hypothesis by engaging in a variety of techniques and strategies for the collection of data. The fieldwork incorporated participant observation and note taking by observing students' performance and participation in class activities under different contexts and settings away from computer equipment. Interviews with students and teachers were tape-recorded. The emphasis has also incorporated qualitative analysis, based on generating and developing the final results. A triangulation technique was also used to improve the validity of data collection strategies, time periods and theoretical schemes. Parents' survey was also conducted to validate further the data provided by the students.

Results of the study - Parents

The majority of parents felt that their children were spending more time on the computer than reading any type of printed text. They generally felt that the high use of computers at home is not allowing their children to develop their literacy skills as expected at this age. They also felt that spending time exploring the computer medium is good for developing computer literacy but not the language literacy. Nevertheless, the majority of parents were convinced of the necessity of technology in their domestic environment for their children's educational needs. 68.23% of parents indicated that their initial reasons for buying a personal computer was for their children's education (to do school work) and to keep up with technology (learn how to use the IT).

The majority of parents' responses to the survey were that "their children need to keep up with the current development of technology [of any kind]". "For technology is taking part in all aspects of our society and our lives". Parents' responses were: "there is not much of a choice, everything is computers. ... Children need to have good knowledge of computers, ... that is the way the world is going". The other common technological device installed at home for students to use in their leisure time is the video games. This data demonstrates in a more complete way how students spend the time with screen based equipment after school hours. The parents also indicated the type of amusement equipment other than the PC their children have access to. 71.15% of parents answered that their children have access to both electronic amusement equipment and home computers.

Computer use

The survey also sought parents' opinions on whether the regular use of personal computers could further develop reading and writing skills, especially in relation to their observations on the amount of home computer usage by their children.

Reading skills

The parents were asked to estimate their children's reading time in hours per week. Graph 1 illustrates the parents' responses.

Figure 1

Graph 1: Parents' estimated time their children spend on reading in hours per week

The data in Graph 1 indicates that 38.46% of parents reported zero hours of reading their children do. It is worth questioning this high figure of non-reading time of the children. The children may not be informing their parents about the set homework which in most cases requires extra reading. Indeed, the role of home and school-parent partnership is undoubtedly a significant influence on the children's acquisition and development of literacy skills (Cairney et al 1995: 31-32 and Cook 1997: 6).

Writing skills

Besides reading skills, writing skills was another aspect of literacy where the author conveys his/her message through the content of the text. Writing was also looked at for the legibility of handwritten presentation and in vocabulary and comprehension expressions. Graph 2 demonstrates the parents' responses.

Figure 2

Graph 2: Parents' responses on PC allowing their children to develop their writing skills.

The parents also realised that the frequent use of computers is not helping students' writing skills. 38.46% of parents replied "No" to the PC not allowing their children to develop their writing skills. Their comments were: "Writing skills are diminishing and deteriorating. They are losing the art of writing and becoming too reliant on the spell checker and grammar to correct their work". For example, 75% of children in this study use the word processing software application which has tool capabilities (like spell checker, thesaurus and grammar) that the students are relying on when it comes to school work. "The children these days are forgetting how to read and write because the computer does it all for them". Another quote from parents, "there are enough computers wherever they go these days. They should only concentrate on how to read and write. These are the basic skills they are going to need to operate any medium devices as well as surfing the Internet."


Interviews were also conducted with eleven teachers (8 females and 3 males) who were teaching the participants (in different subjects) during the study. Their views and personal observation were obtained on students' literacy development with the regular use of IT within their learning areas, their evaluation in the integration of IT into their subject area and their assessment of students' performance and acquisition in reading and writing skills.

The teachers' general overview was "The regular use of IT both at home and at school is having an impact on the students' development in literacy skills." Even so, "some teachers are in favour of implementing the Learning Technologies, as directed by the DoE [1998], right across the curriculum." They also expressed their concern about the students' capabilities in exploiting both the software and hardware. As far as addressing the literacy problem, "the use of IT is not going to solve the problem, on the contrary, there will be further problems with literacy development and acquisition. Nothing is as effective as the teacher in class teaching literacy. Computers should only be used as tools not as a substitute for the initial assessment."

The teachers are often not sure what they are assessing the product of a computer or students' own literacy skills. Handwriting is another issue of concern. "The students' handwritten work is not easily readable. There is too much emphasis on Information Technology, where there are students who can hardly read and write."


The parents' and teachers' responses were for and against the use of computers. The majority of them felt that their children were spending more time on the computer than reading any type of printed text. The high use of computer is not allowing their children to develop their literacy skills as expected at this age. Spending their time exploring the microelectronic medium is good for developing computer literacy but not the language literacy. They also reported that their children's handwritten work and writing skills are gradually deteriorating which coincides with a heavy reliance on the computer use and software applications. Nevertheless, the parents had been convinced of the necessity of technology in their domestic environment for their children's needs.

The important part of human life is when skill learning vitally occurs in the early years of growing up to enhance and comprehend the basic learning skills. The emphasis of learning today has shifted from literacy to technology based on the current trends of society and the global economy. We have to create a balance to succeed in the acquisition of both computer and language literacies. This area needs continuous study, for technology is vastly advancing and implying changes to all aspects of life.


Beynon, John, and, Mackay, Hughie, (1993). More questions than answers. In John Beynon and Hughie Mackay (Eds), Computers into Classrooms: More Questions Than Answers. The Falmer Press, London. Pages 1-18).

Cairney, T. H., Ruge, J., Lowe, K., and Munsie, L. (1995). Developing Partnership: The Home, School, and Community Interface. Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Australia.

Cook, Margaret. (1997, July 29). Who is to blame when children fail? The Age. Education Section. Page 6.

Department of Education (1998). Learning Technologies in Victorian Schools: 1998-2001. Community Information Service, Victoria.

Goss, Sue (1997, November 25). Learning more about - literacy and access: Much more than reading and writing. The Age. Education. Page 15

Lankshear, Colin, Bigum Chris, Durrant Cal, Green Bill, Honan Eileen, Morgan Wendy, Murray Joy, Snyder Ilana, and Wild, Martyn. (1997). Digital Rhetorics: Literacies and Technologies in Education - Current Practices and Future Directions. Volume 2, Site Studies. Commonwealth of Australia. This project was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Tapscott, Don (1998). Growing Up with Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. McGraw-Hill. New York.

Author: Odette Radi works full time as a post primary teacher - teaching Information Technology and SOSE at a secondary college. Her other teaching methods are: Politics, Humanities and LOTE (Years 7-12). Qualifications: BA, Dip Ed, Postgrad Arts, Grad Dip Information and Communication Technology Ed; completed a minor thesis for Masters of Education, titled "The Impact of Information Technology on the Development of Literacy skills in a Secondary School", at the University of Melbourne in the Faculty of Education.

Please cite as: Radi, O. (2002). Parents' and teachers' report on students' use of the computer and its impact on reading and writing skills. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July.

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