Googling could endanger reading ability, head warns

Internet could threaten pupils' ability to absorb 'what it is to be human', says Girls' Schools Association president

Claudia Civinini

Could internet search engines threaten pupils' understanding of what it is to be human?

Search engines such as Google could endanger pupils' ability to read and to understand humanity, the Girls' Schools Association's president will say today.

According to Sue Hincks, head of Bolton School Girls’ Division:  “We need to question whether our ability to ‘search’ quickly for answers online means we are in danger of losing our ability to read and digest material slowly and in linear fashion, empathising with characters as they emerge from the page and gradually absorbing what it means to be human.”

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The head will also warn about the dangers that social media can pose to pupils. " We need to teach them that clickbots, social bots and vote bots are designed to influence public opinion, polarising views, silencing opposition, denigrating or extolling individuals, parties and brand according to intent," she is expected to say at the association's conference in Bristol.

"They take away nuance, undermine discernment, and encourage the adoption of unreasoned opinions and attitudes. Surely, future generations will be amazed by our naivety, the lack of ethical debate among our educated classes and the inability or unwillingness to stem the growth of the technological giants.”

Internet 'threatens human understanding'

Ms Hincks will make the point that schools play a crucial role in ensuring that students have the right critical-thinking skills to understand and use information in the digital age – but that the curriculum needs to include how these can manipulate public opinions.

Speaking to Tes, Ms Hincks said that with quick answers available over the internet, students were not incentivised to engage meaningfully with information.

“It seems to me that nowadays when you pose a question it is relatively easy for someone to just Google or just use another internet search engine to find the answer and you don’t, therefore, have to learn, read journals, in the way that you once did, to find out solutions to problems,” she said.

“When you take time over something, your brain engages and you reflect on the material. Whereas if you are just getting a quick fix of an answer, then the question is answered and there’s not necessarily a further philosophical thought behind it.”

This is particularly important for fiction reading, she said, with information available in bite-sized chunks not giving students access to the rich vocabulary and emotions conveyed by literature.

“If your main reading is bite-sized chunks of information, you don’t then get deeply into great works of literature in the way that maybe previous generations  did…but there is a richness in the language used and the emotions conveyed that is very enriching for your mind,” she said.

“We are in danger of not giving these sorts of books sufficient attention to develop in the way that potentially previous generations did.”

Google was approached for comment.

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Claudia Civinini

Claudia Civinini

Find me on Twitter @claudiacivinini

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