Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Are books better than computers?

A study claims that old-fashioned books are better than computers at raising standards among primary school children.

Independent research for the Publishers' Association found that schools which spent more on their library stock than new technology were twice as likely to get better test results.

On average, primary schools now spend 30 per pupil on computers each year, 19 per pupil on books.

Chief researcher on the study Roger Watson said: "Good IT resources may help to raise standards but it looks as though traditional school books help even more.

Are books a better aid to learning than computers?

This Talking Point is now closed. Read your comments below.

As a mother, a grandmother and a teacher, I definitely believe that books are much better than computers for more reasons than one. First of all, a child who reads tends to concentrate on the story and the book itself, instead of the many colourful attractive distractions that come with the computer. Secondly, when I'm told: "Well, you can supervise a child", I say: "Exactly my point!" With a computer I must supervise a child, but with a book, I know exactly where the child is, what he/she is reading, and while he/she is benefiting from it, he/she learns also to take some valuable time for self-growth away from high technology and for some quiet time, which is very needed at this point and age. Therefore, I rest my case!
Ninni Lemus, USA

Nothing stimulates the intellect like a good book

Richard Lewis, UK
Computers, whilst a useful tool, are transient at best. There is always a better, faster processor being launched or a bigger hard drive to be had. Books, however, are for life and nothing stimulates the intellect like a good book.
Richard Lewis, UK

I am now definitely middle-aged and hence educated using books however I have just completed one of the early OU courses to use CBT. It definitely helps with to have animation on dreadfully boring subjects. However nothing can match the convenience of a book and you won't find high quality information on the web. Ultimately all information is presented to make money. Very few people will be willing to give away carefully researched information in an uncontrolled manner. A book is still an easily controlled and managed outlet.
Kevin Field, England

I don't think curling up next to a fireplace with a PC trying to find an outlet sounds as nice as reading a book. If you ever watched Star Trek The Next Generation, the Captain of the Enterprise always found time to read a good hardback book with a cup of Earl Grey in the 24th century. Besides you might spill the tea on the PC and fry your computer.
Russ Black, Los Angeles, CA USA

It's far better to roam through an old encyclopaedia than surf the web

Alberto Lupi, Italy
We are slaves of a strange version of the idea of evolution. We think that the new is going to take the place of what is not new. Bacteria still exist after one billion years. And a good museum, from the National Gallery to the Uffizi or the Knusthistoriche, still has a lot of beauty. The book maybe will have bad market times, but is far better to roam through an old encyclopaedia than surf the web. If I had to choose for the education of a child, books would be the first choice - after a lot of friends, of course!
Alberto Lupi, Italy

You can read books by candlelight when we have used up all the planet's natural resources for power generation. Computers are an important part of society today and used in conjunction with books, are a worthwhile educational tool. A computer cannot possibly replace a book.
Di Stewart, USA

This debate has made me more nostalgic about those days when we cared about nothing like TV or computers or other things but only about stories from books, from my mum or my grandma. Oh, those days were prettier.
Sundar, India

I read a book recently. It was incredible, like an Internet that you can hold in your hand!
Eugene Brazil, England

Does it take a study before we acknowledge the obvious?

Matthew, UK
Does it take a study before we acknowledge the obvious? Of course a book is better than a computer for teaching primary children: why get kids to run when they can't walk? Who pays for these nonsense studies to be carried out?
Matthew, UK

As a school librarian I recommend the use of the best tool for the job whether it be a book, CD-ROM or Internet. What needs to be taught are effective information retrieval and handling skills, whatever the source. Also a distinction needs to be drawn between books as an information source and books for reading for pleasure.
Lesley Martin, UK

How many people receiving a report or document by e-mail print it out to read it?
Al, UK

Computer learning goes hand in hand with headaches, eye strain and mobility problems

Sridhar Pichumani, UK
Entirely shifting to computer-based learning will not help. I agree the CBL is a new way of learning. It creates interest in learning but, for the interest to persist, oral teaching associated with the books is a must. And not all the people are interested in computers. Computer learning goes hand in hand with headaches, eye strain and mobility problems. Also I have always felt that the things I read from the books stays etched in my mind for a long time. Sometimes I can even see the lines in my mind's eye. Computer based learning has more distractions as well. Kids get carried away by games in the box. Books are definitely better than computers.
Sridhar Pichumani, UK

I recently bought a rare book published in 1921. What a joy it is to wander around an antiquarian bookshop and uncover treasures. In fifty years time will people be wandering around antiquarian computer shops drooling over some old Amstrad PC1512 with double disk drive? I think not.
Chris Klein, England

I believe computers allow an extra dimension in education

Mike Baker, UK
As a Microsoft certified professional, I believe computers allow an extra dimension in education (adult or children) but you can't beat a good book. Today children as young as five are using computers in schools (where sometimes Heads and teachers don't have a clue what to do with them). When I was that age I was reading books. Computers should become part of a child's education at least until age 9/10. And as for the IT industry, it's not all computer work - there is a lot of reading and writing or reports and documentation involved.
Mike Baker, UK

I agree that books and computers are equally important. Surely what we need to do is educate all in the value of both?
Philip, London, UK

My daughter is two and we have read to her every day and before bed. Her vocabulary and speech is well ahead for her age. Reading books to children in their formative years is essential. It helps them learn speech and develop the imagination and also strengthens your relationship with them. Reading for young kids gives them the grounding in grammar and spelling that will be essential in life. Once that is developed, the chances of using computers as a more effective tool for education or pleasure are much better. A lot of stuff on computer is the 'froth on the cappuccino', if you don't understand or are not interested you can click on. It is too biased to try and be 'fun' and interactive instead of informative.
Jeremy, UK

Of course books are better!

Alex Chiang, Australia
Of course books are better! No amount of interactive multimedia claptrap will ever make learning your tables or grammar interesting, unless you are the one in a million who's inherently interested. Where they do make it interesting, they do so by diluting the content. Computers were an educational fad purely because people like new toys, but those of us who are familiar with the machines know that they are nothing more than a useful tool when you have a job to do; a Makita for the mind if you will.
Alex Chiang, Australia

Anything that can be presented in a book can also be presented on computer. It is worth noting that most comprehensive encyclopaedias are now published almost exclusively on CD-Rom, due to the cost savings and the like. The introduction of computers in primary schools also helps introduce this form of media earlier in life, and there is no doubt that it is about the most valuable aid in further education. I would like to see more in the way of online learning, and only wish that when I was at school we had had such computer access.

In primary schools, there needs to be better understanding among staff about the benefits of computers. Many teachers may not ever have had the use of them at school or university, and hence there may be a reluctance to have them introduced into the classroom. Before they can effectively be used in classrooms, there needs to be a comprehensive introduction to computers for staff, to avoid them just being considered as a worthless piece of furniture taking up space in the classroom, which could otherwise be used to store 30 books, or squeeze in another pupil.
Mike Fletcher, Australia / UK

I get tired of people treating this as a battle ground, calling each other Luddites/Philistines with short attention spans etc. Both books and computers are useful. But I will say one thing - how many people find it faster to move to the next screen on the internet than it is to turn the page of a book?
Jim Anderson, UK

By using computers in an interactive way, the horizons are virtually limitless

Kelly, UK
I think these statistics do not demonstrate that books are more effective in teaching than computers, but that the majority of schools are not using new technology to its full potential. Surely, by using computers in an interactive way, the horizons are virtually limitless. In this information age, we need to completely rethink teaching methods, and give our children advantages in the workplace that many of us never had. By this I do not mean that books are obsolete, but that the traditional and the modern need to be made to complement each other to good effect.
Kelly, UK

Why should there be any distinction? Since we can place books online and download their contents in minutes, books and computers are made for each other and serve each other's purposes excellently. In the future, no doubt, printers and other peripherals for home use will be so highly developed they'll have the capability to publish. Reading material will be bound together as a professional book publisher might do this. But where computers are really going to shine in conjunction with the internet is online courses of education. Nothing lends itself better; not the lecture room and not the library. In some ways the information revolution has just begun.

A book can be read anywhere, anytime and by anybody

Agha Ata, USA
A book can be read anywhere, anytime and by anybody. I can take it with me on the train, in a car, a horse-drawn buggy. I can even take it with me to my bed, in my back yard and on the bus. I can read it for 5 minutes or one hour and close it in one tenth of a second to attend to other business.
Agha Ata, USA

People always talk about how computers allow us to "access" information better, but is that really an issue? In the US, half our kids don't know when our Civil War took place. Is that a problem of access? Computers may be more "fun" for kids, but the whole point of school is to redefine what they find to be interesting. It's the subject matter that counts, but computers are so pretentious a medium that they can't help but draw attention to themselves. Pupils (pardon the pun) have trouble seeing through the technology to the subject matter.
Thomas, USA

Why does one need to be better than the other? They are different and each has its own good and bad points. I would not want to curl up on the sofa with my iMac but I would not want to go back to communicating with my brother across the Atlantic by snail mail when I can e-mail him in seconds. Let's see things for what they are and what they can do rather than making comparisons which are futile.
Derek, UK

Isn't it obvious? Oranges are much better than apples.
Adam Parker, USA

Many years ago I paid over 2000 for a set of encyclopaedias. Recently I purchased an update on CD-ROM for only 50. The major difference is the speed of retrieval, the links to similar articles and obviously the cost.
Maurice, UK

I don't think there is any comparison at all. Computers are unfriendly and not at all social. But books are wonderful .You can discuss books and read them in a group and act them out. Computers are just useful devices. But calling books devices (as some here did) is an absolute crime!
Sonali, India

As technology evolves, computers will definitely become more important

Matt, Oxford, UK
I'll say books are still better than computers based on current technology. As technology evolves, computers will definitely become more important. I think issues such as cost, portability and reliability will have to be resolved before computers will finally replace books as the main tool for education.
Matt, Oxford, UK

The biggest problem with this study is that I doubt that it takes into account the fact that most educators don't know how to fully utilise computers. We had no models of how to use them because there were none around when we were in school, therefore just about everything we do with them is an experiment. In the future, as we learn to use them to there full potential, the value of computers in the classroom will increase.
Dave, USA

In about three hundred years time they will probably call this the dark ages because all the information that was on computers was lost in some kind of large systems error and the only things that will be left are books like Jamie Oliver's cook books. Just look at the past 2000 years we even have the documents of Rome kicking about somewhere but now all the information we have instead of being stored away it will just be deleted.
James Clarke, UK

I would assume that in this research the books in question are text books and obviously more relevant than a PC for passing school exams. Outside school, no one is going to curl up with a PC in bed but few people's book collections are going to contain every piece of information they will ever need - but if they log onto the Internet they can find almost anything.
Gill, UK

I think this says more about the appalling lack of knowledge on computers in our schools, than anything else. In reality both are useful for different things. Books are valuable learning tools, biased towards certain types of learning. Equally, computers are also valuable tools, but all too often schools have so little knowledge of their uses and functions that they do little more than play simple games on them. If computers were used effectively in schools, they would be a great addition to books as a means of education.
Mike, England

This report is trying to compare the equivalent of apples and oranges. You can do far more with a computer than read books with it. Having recently visited my daughter's school to see what they do with their computers, I found that they use only a tiny fraction of their capabilities.
Paul R, UK

It is the text that is important, not the medium. For example a computer allows you to search through the entire works of Shakespeare in a few seconds - tell me that is not useful to anyone studying. It all fits nicely into my organiser which means I can read it anywhere. I'm tired of all the Luddites complaining because they are so stuck in the past. Books will always have their place, but so will computers.
Dave Watts, UK

Computers can offer interactivity that engages a student

Edward L. Nemil, US
There is an entertainment factor to education. Computers can offer interactivity that engages a student. Computers have the potential of analysing a student's learning patterns, and optimise the learning process. Books on the other hand have a linear format that provides a framework/context to learning that allows a student to retain information. Often computers (especially the internet with its hypertext links ) allows users to bounce around and find information very quickly, but without a framework on which to hang this knowledge, the information is quickly lost.

Financial factors not withstanding, computers have the potential to surpass (or encompass) books as a learning medium. As screen resolution increases, making monitors easier to read, and computers become more powerful allowing artificially intelligent software to tailor lessons for each child, I see unlimited potential.
Edward L. Nemil, US

Computers can never replace books but they should be able to exist alongside each other. If books were removed from classrooms altogether, how would children be able to learn how to operate a computer? Reading isn't just about inwardly digesting the words on the page, it is about concentration, researching information and helps to develop and expand a child's vocabulary. In my opinion, teachers are far too keen to sit pupils in front of a computer screen and research information for themselves. Unfortunately, the majority of teachers lack adequate training in IT to be able to make full use of computers in schools. Our teachers should be teaching our children, providing them with an input of knowledge, not merely supervising while they click their way through the various pages on the Internet.
Jennifer, UK

A combination of approaches is the most appropriate strategy. Approach learning through books and switch to ICT when you are bored or cannot find the answer and vice versa. Why don't we embrace what both have to offer other then relying on one medium?
Anthony A, Thailand

I think books and computers are good for different things. What I don't like to see is my kids printing stuff off the Internet and sticking it in their homework folders with no further effort to look at the subject or write anything out themselves. It's too easy. Also, what about the kids who don't yet have access to the Internet at home?
Frances, UK

A computer is just a tool. Far too often, they are used for point and click exercises where students simply go through the motions and never really understand the concepts involved. Of course, books can also vary from quality to being a waste of paper. But on the whole, books are currently better then computers, since there are many good textbooks out there while effective computer learning is limited.
Daniel Rego, USA

As someone who works in a library, I am constantly alarmed by the lack of spelling and grammar skills shown by students. One constant problem we have in showing people how to use the Internet, for instance, is that without a spell check, they cannot spell words correctly when submitting terms to search engines or library catalogues and databases, with the result that they get no relevant hits. We have also found that these students do not absorb the information from the screen properly, nor do they evaluate it. Lack of knowledge of basic indexing also means that they are lost when confronted with sites which aim to list online resources in a logical manner.

Computers have revolutionised all our lives, but they have their use alongside more traditional skills and methods of information retrieval, and each should hopefully complement the other. Computers and books are not in competition, but should be used together, since they both have very different roles to play.
Kate, UK

Of course books are better than computers. Computers operate in "bitesize" information chunks and hypertext only leads to concentration deficit. The fact that I accidentally voted no because I no longer have the patience to spend more than a few seconds on any screen is a case in point.
Conall, Wicklow, Ireland

The problem in UK education is that teachers are not properly trained in the integration of technology with lessons

Gareth, The Netherlands
A computer could potentially display any book in the world. It could also display films, music or any other form of information. If schools with more books are getting better test results then the only thing that represents is that the computers are not being used in the way they should. The problem in UK education is that teachers are not properly trained in the integration of technology with lessons, add to that a chronic lack of good technology and its no wonder that your pouring money down the drain.
Gareth, The Netherlands

Books are much better then computers, they can be carried with you are read anyplace.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

We should ask the following questions;-
1. Who commissioned this report? 2. What tests? Those based on book learning? Hardly surprising that books came out on top then!
Martin Ouseley, UK

Yes and no. They have different uses - I think books probably have a greater impact on general literacy, as publishers tend to make sure that spelling and grammar are correct. But computers are also useful, and being able to search for information on them is invaluable for research. Both are tools, and they are not mutually exclusive. They should both be encouraged and funded.
Lizz, UK

Computers are nothing more than a tool. A tool that is changing so fast that many skills given now to the under 10s will never be used. We should see computers as a very important tool, and learn to differentiate between understanding the principles of computing and the nuts and bolts of particular applications. Use computers for what they do best, and use books for what they do best, but do not chase computers for their own sake, speaking as a programmer, you will always be playing catch-up.
Andrew Torrance, Wales, UK

Computers have a place, but books are better. Let me put it this way, whenever I have trouble with my computer I find the solution in a book.
Brian Pyle, USA

The internet is aimed at a society with minimal attention span - the couch potato generation

Kev, UK
The internet is aimed at a society with minimal attention span - the couch potato generation. The television is delivered in half-hour 'bites', and tends to cater for the lower end of the attention-span range. To learn anything at school or beyond, children need to be encouraged to take their time and study books. Learning at an early stage to read for pleasure is the first step towards this.
Kev, UK

It is not a question of which is better. There is an equally valuable place for books and computers in today's world and it is important that our children have access to both. Surely it is better to rejoice in the new-found technology which has enriched the lives and life chances of future generations.
Catherine, UK

Books and computers are only as useful as the teachers that use them with the pupils. The computer can present the text of any book and also allow interaction with the pupil. It can also allow connection to the vast resources of the internet. The fact that schools that spend more money on books get better results reflects the poor standard of teacher ability in using computers as an aid to learning.
Peter Lloyd, UK

Of course books are better, computers can be harsh on the eye, it's tough trying to absorb knowledge when you have the world outside reflecting off your screen. A book is portable, it can be taken to the park, on holiday etc, schools PC's cannot.
Also most people I work with will print out a long email or document, as things are just easier to read on paper rather than on screen. That's not to say computers do not have their place, they are a fantastic tool for gathering information, but that information should not necessarily be read on screen.
Natalie Clark, UK

Both have pros and cons

Matt Peak, America
When it comes to books or the computer they both have pros and cons. In the textbook you are reading a one sided point of view. For example in my US history class there was one short sentence that dealt with Japanese prison camps. The writers of the textbook used in class did not think that it was important to put in the book. When it comes to the internet you can not also believe what you read. But if look long enough you can find the truth, but with the textbook you have to believe what the book has in print.
Matt Peak, America

I am not altogether sure we should be pitting these against each other. But I cannot help feeling that books can stimulate thought and imagination in a way that computers cannot. As many will have to spend their lives in front of a screen, it seems a pity not to develop their literary tastes, so they can avoid the dehumanising and dumbing down effect of computerisation.
Ken Beach, Germany

Your question should be re-phrased. I think that with the future of technology so critical to the economy and as part of the educational process, that books and computers should take equal place in the priority list. It is not a question of one or the other.
Charles Porter, USA

I can see how books would be better than CBL (computer based learning) based systems. Inadequate methods in software are probably just one of the reasons why.
Andrew Olden, UK

The greatest advantage books have over computers is that they make the imagination work - the reader has to fill in so many gaps that they create their own version of the story, perhaps far better than Hollywood could ever do. This means that children are stretched instead of being spoon-fed and are more likely to develop into independent creative beings instead of helpless little consumers. They are also cheaper and lighter and don't need electricity - try playing a computer game up a tree!
Stephen James, UK

There is no fair comparison between computers and books. Both are tools

Manu, Belgium
There is no fair comparison between computers and books. Both are tools, suitable for different purposes. Computers have a great potential to be intellectually stimulating. What is perhaps wrong with their application in schools is that children are encouraged to use their computers as a replacement for pen and paper or for books, instead of being thought how their work and how they can become creative computer users.
Manu, Belgium

Paper books don't run out of juice after two hours, they boot up more quickly, they are less susceptible to water damage, they can be dropped more often. The technology may improve to the point where electronic books are more practical and cheaper than their paper equivalent, but this hasn't happened yet.
Alastair Alexander, UK

My top 10 reasons why books are better than computers:
1. Books don't crash. 2. You can read a book anywhere. 3. If you spill coffee on a book it's not disastrous. 4. You don't have to wait for books to download. 5. Books don't give you repetitive strain injury from too much mouse use or headaches from flickering screens. 6. Books don't have wires to get tangled up. 7. Books fit easily into pockets and handbags. 8. You don't need a password to read a book. 9. You have no problems with bookmarks. 10. It's much easier to see what's on a bookshelf than inside a computer.
Janet, UK

Computers, or rather computer software is an additional resource. It should never replace books. Books and computers should complement each other and neither should be seen as a replacement for the other.
John, UK

I feel that children should use computers more. The majority of industries are moving more towards IT. Some of the best paid jobs in the world are in a IT arena so we need to encourage children to move in that direction.
Andy N, UK

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Vote now!
Are books better than computers for children?
See also:

21 May 01 | Education
Books 'best for tests'
06 Feb 01 | Education
Primary schools 'short of text books'
14 Jan 00 | Bett2000
Technology boost for key skills
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Talking Point stories