The wireless, battery-free learning solution

19th May 2006 at 01:00
I have just visited a school library in a large boys' secondary school, where a poster on the wall read: "Books: the Other Channel".

This is a confident librarian's statement that these wireless, battery-free, low-maintenance personal learning solutions can hold their own against flashier technology, although they might still need a bit of technical support (teachers).

Books are not expensive individually (the pound;100 per head would buy a shelfload of up to 20 new children's books). What costs is offering an ideal book for every reader. A Year 6 class needs to choose from everything from Northern Lights by Philip Pullman to short stories by Paul Jennings to the latest Guinness Book of Records.

Books need to be attractive, contemporary and available in abundance to make sure they have an allure equal to that of ringtones and DVDs for children who are not enthusiastic readers.

And school is the only place where many children are likely to encounter anything like an abundance of books.

But before we have to start spending the pound;100 a head, the library card is the child's first right as an independent citizen (apart from the Bookstart package which they might not remember).

Choosing a book is an act of citizenship for a child in the way that clicking on a menu is not. Reading any text develops information literacy, writing skills and empathy, and arguably reading in print does all this just as well and sometimes more accessibly.

It is important that when encouragement to read is most needed there are still enticing choices in print, and that some of these choices are not for the relentlessly practical, but inspiring things of beauty. What about giving reluctant children "their" pound;100 up front, to spend on books for their school library?

Books do not become obsolete in the way that technology does but they do become jaded and tired on the outside.

Dusty and dog-eared class readers never look quite as forlorn as a 15-year-old BBC computer, but they don't do much to sell the reading experience.

Books are inclusive: they can be read by candlelight in homes where the electricity has been cut off, or has never been connected. Books will always be there, but we must not assume they can transform learning it on their own.

Geraldine Brennan is literary editor of The TES

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