SYDNEY – Parents might label it a waste of time but the hours spent surfing the internet, chatting online, and even on the dreaded Facebook appear to improve children's reading skills, The Australian reported Wednesday.
An international online reading test conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) -- a group of 17 industrialized nations including Australia -- found that moderate computer use at home, either doing schoolwork or socializing, increased children's reading skills, particularly among boys.
As part of the OECD's Program of International Student Assessment in 2009 that tested students' reading skills in print, a smaller group also completed an online assessment of their skills reading digital texts, searching for and evaluating information, and combining information from a number of websites.
The study found that the teenagers scored higher in the digital reading test than the print test, with Australian students scoring almost 22 points more for their online reading skills.
Girls continued to outperform boys in reading, but by a smaller margin.
Australian girls scored an average of 24 points more in the digital test compared with 38 points in the print test, which was still higher than the OECD average of 14 points.
Using a computer at home was more influential in improving reading skills than using them at school, but in Australia students from more affluent families were more likely to use computers at school and at home than disadvantaged students.
Students who used a computer at home scored 84 points higher on the digital reading test than students who did not, and 48 points higher after taking into account the relative disadvantage of students.
Using a computer at school increased students' scores by only 42 points, and 31 points after taking student backgrounds into account.
The biggest gains were from using the home computer for schoolwork, with students who browsed the internet every day for their schoolwork scoring 100 points more than students who rarely surfed. The same activity at school only raised test scores by about 50 points.
Sending emails every day also increased the students' digital reading score by 50 points.