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Smartphones could improve reading skills in Indigenous adolescents

Media release

A Curtin University research study has determined that mobile phones, commonly used for texting, may facilitate reading achievement among Indigenous adolescents in remote regions who have limited literacy in Standard English.

The research by Associate Professor Genevieve Johnson in Curtin’s School of Education has been published in the International Journal of Economy, Management and Social Sciences.

The research assessed patterns of computer use, television viewing, internet usage, video gaming and mobile phone use among Indigenous adolescents from remote Western Australia and measured how these related to reading ability.

A group of 23 Indigenous adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 participated in individual structured interviews, which queried age of first use and current frequency of use of the five devices.

A reading comprehension measure was developed based on cloze deletion where participants were asked to replace missing words.

“Two of the five correlations between frequency of current use for the five devices and reading comprehension scores reached significance,” Dr Johnson said.

“As frequency of current mobile phone use increased, reading comprehension tended to improve and, as frequency of current computer use increased, reading comprehension tended to decrease.

“Details of the nature of computer and mobile phone use were not determined in this investigation and further research is required that may explain the inverse relationship between computer use and reading comprehension amongst this adolescent population.”

Whilst anecdotes from teachers have described text messaging as having an ‘adverse effect on children’s written language production’, numerous research studies have identified a positive relationship between text messaging and literacy skills.

Dr Johnson agrees, reporting that in many rural and remote Indigenous communities, mobile phone technology is encouraging writing among those previously disenfranchised by traditional forms of literacy.

“Recent advances in broadband and mobile phone access have led to increased use of these technologies by Indigenous Australians in remote regions.

“The evolution of smartphones may constitute a powerful mechanism by which to improve the reading skills of Indigenous adolescents living in remote communities,” Dr Johnson said.



Notes to editors

  • The 2009 National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy results for grade 9 students indicated that only 67 per cent of Indigenous adolescents who took the reading test achieved the minimum standard levels, compared with 93.5 per cent of non-Indigenous adolescents.


  • In Western Australia, only 56.4 per cent of Indigenous adolescents attained the minimum standard for the reading test, compared to 92.4 per cent of non-Indigenous adolescents.


  • These scores are likely to be optimistic because of low Indigenous participation rates in national testing, particularly by low-achieving students.


  • The adolescents who participated in the Curtin study attended a residential high school and thus may represent the best and most digitally connected Indigenous youth in remote regions of Australia.


  • Cloze tests require the ability to understand context and vocabulary in order to identify the word that best completes a sentence.