Tablets loaded with literacy apps may help improve the reading skills of young children living in economically disadvantaged communities, say scientists who have launched new trials of the devices in India.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University, and Georgia State University in the U.S. examined the use of tablet computers loaded with literacy applications in a range of educational environments.
One was set in a pair of rural Ethiopian villages with no schools and no written culture; one was set in a suburban South African school with a student-to-teacher ratio of 60 to one; and one was set in a rural U.S. school with predominantly low-income students.
“The whole premise of our project is to harness the best science and innovation to bring education to the world’s most under resourced children,” said Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The researchers’ system consists of an inexpensive tablet computer using Google’s Android operating system.
Researchers combed through the early-childhood and literacy apps to identify several hundred that met their quality criteria and addressed a broad enough range of skills to lay a foundation for early reading education.
The researchers also developed their own interface for the tablets. Across the three deployments, the tablets were issued to children ranging in age from 4 to 11.
The Ethiopian trial involved children aged 4 to 11 who had no prior exposure to spoken English or any written language.
After a year using the tablets, children were tested on their understanding of roughly 20 spoken English words, taken at random from apps loaded on the tablets. More than half of the students knew at least half the words, and all the students knew at least four. When presented with strings of Roman letters in a random order, 90 per cent could identify at least 10 of them, and all the children could supply the sounds corresponding to at least two of them.
In the South African trial, rising second graders who had been issued tablets the year before were able to sound out four times as many words as those who had not, and in the U.S. trial, which involved only 4-year-olds and lasted only four months, half-day pre-school students were able to supply the sounds corresponding to nearly six times as many letters as they had been before the trial.
Researchers have launched new trials in Uganda, Bangladesh, India, and the U.S.