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Mihael Kovač, expert in reading and the effect of screens: “Those who use computers best are great book readers”


Highlights: Mihael Kovač is a professor at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. He is one of the signatories of a manifesto calling for the promotion of higher-level reading. He says that the future of civilization lies in the need to find the balance between paper and the screen. He warns that if children use devices at an early age they risk losing the ability to concentrate on a book. He believes that reading could be seen as a gym for the brains of people doing important things.

The Slovenian teacher warns that if children use devices at an early age they risk losing the ability to concentrate

Mihael Kovač (Ljubljana, Slovenia, 63 years old) confesses to being “crazy” about books.

So meeting him at the Laie bookstore in Barcelona makes him feel at home, despite the long journey that this professor from the Department of Library Science, Information Sciences and Book Studies at the university in the Slovenian capital has made.

The teacher is one of the signatories of the Ljubljana Manifesto, which advocates the promotion of higher-level reading (complex texts) so as not to lose the capacity for critical thinking in an era dominated by technology and superfluous consumption of content.

Likewise, he has participated in studies that analyze the effect of screens on learning.

In a visit last week to the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, which joined the manifesto, Kovač defended that the future of civilization lies in the need to find the balance between paper and the screen.


: What is the Ljubljana manifesto?


: It is a manifesto on what we call higher level reading, which is the reading of any long text that requires attention and concentration, and with which we acquire new knowledge.

This type of high-level reading is important because it helps us find new words and expand our vocabulary, and it also has long and complex sentences, so it increases our ability to use them and think in complex systems.

If I only know 500 words, my vocabulary will be extremely simple and I will not be able to deal with complex things.

Having complex thinking is crucial in the world we live in, which is full of simple and simplified solutions.

With higher level reading we also develop empathy, by reading about characters and situations different from our own.

And this is very important in personal life, as well as in professional life, because someone who wants to run a company must understand how people think if they want to persuade them and also to know how to listen, because this helps us limit our own stupidity.

20% of managers of technology companies in the United States studied Humanities or Social Sciences and are book readers.

In short, reading could be seen as a gym for the brains of people who are doing important things in their lives.



What problems did you detect that made it necessary to make this manifesto?



It comes from 2016, when a group of academics from several countries began an analysis of the differences between reading on the screen and in books.

And it was seen that, with long texts, when reading on paper the person remembers better what they have read.

And this also works with younger people, who have grown up with mobile phones, but with screens we have all kinds of distractions.

Based on this, we made the Stavanger Declaration, in which we warned educational authorities that digitalization does not solve all problems and that to improve reading skills we need to recover paper.



What do you want to achieve with this manifesto?



We have managed to get a dozen Ministers of Culture to sign the manifesto, but none of Education.

It would be good to follow the example of Sweden, where after poor results in PISA they have once again recovered reading in paper books.

Although it is not officially confirmed, if you look at the PISA report, the good results in digital competence are correlative to reading comprehension.

My hypothesis is that the people who use computers best are great book readers, because it requires concentration and imagination, so the combination of both media is very important.

It would be a mistake to go back to books because then we would be dinosaurs in the information society, and if we limit ourselves only to computers, we do not train people to think strategically or to have a rich language.

Mihael Kovač, professor at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia, on February 15 at the Laie bookstore in Barcelona.

Albert Garcia



So, are you against





To be honest, I use them for fiction, crime, fantasy novels... But I read more complex texts on paper.


are very useful depending on what genres and also if you can't afford to buy books




What do studies say about the effect of screens on young people?



Books train us in patience and screens in constant change and concentration in short periods of time.

What worries me, and other scholars as well, is that the abuse of cell phones could surpass our reading capacity;

In other words, if we give kids screens too early, they might lose their ability to concentrate or sit quietly and think, so I don't think we should give kids smartphones too early.



Should we limit the presence of computers in schools?



If it is used for pedagogical purposes and with the supervision of the teacher, I see it as correct.

In Spain, and also in my country, the experiment of giving computers to students was carried out.

But it hasn't worked, because the only thing it has achieved is increasing the gap between rich and poor students, because if you want to use computers at home to learn, you need someone to help you at home.

And if you don't have it, you're lost and then you use the devices for stupid things like harassing your peers on social media and things like that.



In many Spanish schools, the presence of cell phones has begun to be limited, and even prohibited.

It looks good?



It seems like a smart decision to me.

In my country, management can also prohibit the use of cell phones during school hours, and it works well.

But families have complained because they lose control over their children, which seems absurd to me.

If your child is in school, why do you want to monitor him?

Another issue is the problem of myopia due to the abuse of screens.

In China they have almost banned the use of telephones in the early years of primary education and have imposed the rule that children must play outdoors for at least two hours a day.

Mihael Kovač, professor at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia, on February 15 at the Laie bookstore in Barcelona.

Albert Garcia



In parts of Spain, like Catalonia, we have another problem: students do not understand what they read.

Has this phenomenon been analyzed?



No, because it is a new phenomenon, but it affects many countries, as seen in the results of the PISA and PIRLS studies.

And this should set off all the alarms.

Because we also have problems in mathematics.

And if you are not a good reader you cannot understand a mathematical task;

you can make a calculation, but not solve a problem.

I think it is due to several reasons.

On the one hand, their reading skills are not adequate, or perhaps they are slow readers and are not able to understand a complete and long sentence.

Another reason could be poor vocabulary that prevents them from understanding the text.

The use of screens could also influence, but this would not be the only reason.

It is necessary to do an in-depth study on this.

Furthermore, we live in a kind of narcissistic time where effort is not rewarded and everyone is brilliant and special.

But we are not.

We are only human.

If we think that all children are special and brilliant, if they do not know how to read or understand what they read, it will not be their fault - because they do not try hard enough - because they think they are brilliant;

Then, the blame will be on the environment and those who do not know how to explain well.

So I think the cause is a combination of social, cultural, political and technological factors.



What do you propose to encourage the habit of reading?



In the 1940s, anti-smoking campaigns began or to explain healthy lifestyle habits, such as playing sports.

And people changed their habits and the number of smokers is the lowest in history, and many people now exercise.

We have to work hard to persuade people that reading books still makes sense, because if you don't read you lose abilities to think or be empathetic.



But most people don't like to read.



You have to be honest.

Reading requires more effort than watching TikTok videos or Netflix series.

One of the mistakes of many European countries is trying to encourage reading by saying that it is a pleasure.

Well no, it takes an effort.

If you want to walk five kilometers, it will be difficult at first, but if you do it every day, you will easily reach 10 kilometers without effort.

And the same thing happens with reading, over time you can read more complex texts.

And I don't know how to say it, but there is a certain pleasure in understanding complex things and seeking solutions to complex problems, from political conflicts or the climate crisis.



Making changes is not easy.



No, but we have to start, right?

And I believe that some societies will achieve the balance between digital books and traditional books, but others will fail and be left behind.

It will be a kind of, I hate this kind of terminology, Darwinian situation.

Societies that know how to adapt to changes will survive, and those that fail will disappear.

It has already happened at other times in history.

But I am optimistic and I believe that we will achieve it.

We have to see the advantages of technology and Artificial Intelligence.

It all depends on what humans do with them.

AI is very intelligent, it knows how to do things very quickly, but it does not have wisdom, like human beings.

Somehow we have to combine the intelligence of machines and the wisdom of humans.

And that is the great challenge for our civilization.

And if we achieve this, we can become a better and more interesting civilization.

But I can't imagine that civilization without bookstores.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2024-03-02

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