Digital ‘distractions’ relegate reading for pleasure, says Cambridge headteacher

Cambridge News, 14/04/15, the headteacher of a school at the forefront of the digital revolution fears reading for pleasure is being sidelined by the "omnipresence of technology". HMC member Tricia Kelleher, from the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge, said the distractions and "instant gratification" of the online world is putting reading as a hobby down the pecking order.

She said she was proud of what they had done to embed technology into learning at the school, which issues all its senior school pupils with an iPad,

"And yet, with the many upsides of our approach, we cannot ignore a broader trend being fuelled by the omnipresence of technology," Ms Kelleher said.

"The very real concern of our teachers, particularly teachers of English, is the growing sense that reading as an activity is being crowded out by all the distractions offered by the digital age. There is just so much instant gratification out there."

She added: "Our curriculum leader in English is of the view that over the last 5-6 years she and her colleagues have observed a real difference in the attitude of our students in reading for pleasure.

"Indeed, such is her concern, that she and her colleagues are seriously considering introducing reading lessons in our senior school next year."

The school prides itself on its trailblazing use of technology in the classroom and beyond.

In September, it uploaded 87 of its courses for subjects in GCSE and IGCSE, A-level and the International Baccalaureate Diploma onto iTunes U for teachers and pupils from other schools to use.

They contain resources including web links, video, audio files, iBooks, apps, spreadsheets and PDFs.

Ms Kelleher said the "unintended consequences of the digital revolution" extended beyond reading and into "our cultural identity".

She said there is a "growing awareness that what is being read does not necessarily fall within the classical canon of literature".

She added: "For many of our teenagers the lure of Dickens and Austen is cast into sharp relief by authors who take advantage of the free platforms to publish on the internet.

"The positive here is that at least this is evidence of reading but the real concern is about the quality of the literature being read."

The former history teacher said the "force-feeding reading of the classics", as championed by former Education Secretary Michael Gove, would not help.

"The danger is that the classical canon of literature will be seen as the stuff for qualifications and irrelevant for reading for enjoyment," she said.

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