Teaching Texting

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Science  16 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6109, pp. 864-865
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6109.864-e

Mobile phones are abundant in developing countries; why not use them to teach reading and math in place of the far more cumbersome and fragile channels of books and computers? Aker et al. describe the results of a randomized experiment in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, with one of the lowest rates of adult literacy and numeracy. In half of the 113 villages studied, adult students participating in the same education program received nonsmart mobile phones, with one phone per group of five students and instruction in sending and receiving short messages. Tests before and after the program showed that the students improved from a pre-class beginner level (no literacy or numeracy) to grade one in writing and grade two in math, with those in the mobile phone classes scoring 10% higher. Although proficiency declined somewhat during the 7-month agricultural season, the differential between the phone and phoneless students persisted. Furthermore, the combination of teaching and mobile phone access also resulted in more calling and messaging (both of which rely on numbers, symbols, and letters). Because initiating calls is expensive in Niger, whereas receiving calls is free, providing students with knowledge and means may help to solidify classroom gains.

Am. Econ. J. Appl. 4, 94 (2012).

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