E-mails and Net replace books for British children

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The Independent Online

Secondary school pupils in Britain spend less time reading than almost any others in the world, according to a study published yesterday.

Secondary school pupils in Britain spend less time reading than almost any others in the world, according to a study published yesterday.

However, they do well in international literacy tests for 15-year-olds because they spend more time browsing through magazines, e-mails and websites - and enjoy it more than reading books.

An international study of test results for 43 different countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed only four countries in the world had a lower percentage of girls reading for two hours a day or more. The UK figure was 3.5 per cent.

Even fewer boys read for two hours a day - 2.5 per cent - although that put them slightly higher in their league table (36th). The most avid readers were the Macedonians, where 17.9 per cent of girls and 11.9 per cent of boys did.

Despite the lack of time youngsters spent reading, the UK's overall performance in the tests put it in the top 25 per cent for literacy standards. It came ninth out of 43 countries.

The results prompted a senior OECD education figure to stress that reading e-mails in the modern world was "a valid way" of improving standards.

The analysis of what the youngsters were reading suggested that both girls and boys in the UK were reading for pleasure more often than those in other countries. They said they got most enjoyment out of reading magazines (67.6 per cent of girls and 69.3 per cent of girls) and newspapers (65.1 per cent of girls and 77.4 per cent of boys). Reading e-mails and websites was also more popular among boys and girls in the UK (55.4 per cent and 41.4 per cent respectively) than books. Only one in five enjoyed non- fiction books. A similar picture emerged among boys for fiction - with just over one in three girls enjoying fiction.

Andreas Scheicher, head of analysis at the OECD's education division, said: "You do find a strong correlation between the purpose for reading and performance. Students who are interested in what they read tend to benefit.

"What matters is having a diversity of different reading materials. E-mail is a part of communication in the modern world and is therefore a valid way of spending your reading time," he said.

By contrast, there was a fivefold increase in the number of girls in Brazil - which fared poorly in the test - reading for more than two hours a day (15.9 per cent). Twice as many boys also read for as long but fewer girls and boys enjoyed using e-mails to boost their reading standards (16.8 per cent and 23.3 per cent).

The study - of tests in reading, maths and science - revealed that girls outperformed boys in reading in every country. In maths, the picture was more mixed with more countries showing boys ahead - while there was no conclusive evidence in science as to which gender did best.