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21 Jul 2005 11:16
That television set in the corner really is an idiot box, New Zealand researchers have found.
A 30-year study of more than 1 000 children has found that those who watch the most TV are least likely to go to university and get a degree.
The seven percent of children who watched the box for under an hour daily were the most qualified by the time they were aged 26.
“Those who watched little television had the best chance of going on to university and earning a degree,” said researcher Bob Hancox, deputy director of the Dunedin Research Unit.
He said some children spent more time in front of the box than they did in the classroom and the findings suggested that reducing television viewing could improve their education.
“A lot of people say you can learn a lot from television. I think this is saying that may be possible, but people aren’t learning anything that helps them get any qualifications,” Hancox said.
The study, which monitored the TV habits of 1 037 children born in Dunedin in 1972 and 1973 when they were aged between five and 15, showed they watched for an average of two hours a day, though this soared at weekends.
But over 20% sat in front of the box for more than three hours each schoolday and they did the worst at all academic levels failing to get high school leavers certificate, a bursary for university, a trade diploma or a degree.
Hancox said that although teenage viewing was strongly linked to leaving school without any qualifications, earlier childhood viewing had the greatest impact on getting a degree.
“This suggests that excessive television in younger children has a long-lasting adverse effect on educational performance.”
The study found that even bright children and those from well-off families who watched a lot of TV were less likely to go on and get a degree.
“It’s not just that children with little natural ability decided to watch more television,” Hancox said.
“Children of all levels of intelligence did worse if they watched a lot of television.
Similarly, the association between watching television and poor achievement was not because heavy television viewers had poor socio-economic backgrounds.”
Hancox said television may lead to poor educational achievement by displacing homework and revision or taking up time that would otherwise be spent in more educational pursuits, including reading.
He said television had also been linked to attention and behaviour problems in young children which may impact on classroom performance.
The university said that while some previous studies had investigated links between television viewing and school performance, the study was the first to follow a group of children into adulthood.
Findings were published in the international journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
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