Research Article

Cognitive science in the field: A preschool intervention durably enhances intuitive but not formal mathematics

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Science  07 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6346, pp. 47-55
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4724

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Developing curricula for developing countries

Many children in developing countries grow up in economically poor environments and often also suffer from poorly performing educational systems. Dillon et al. designed inexpensive, locally sourced games—five for mathematics and five for social cognition—for use in preschools in Delhi. They measured the effects of these interventions 3, 9, and 15 months later. Compared with those who played social games, the kids who played math games showed enhanced performance on both nonsymbolic and symbolic math assessments at the 3-month time point. However, only the nonsymbolic improvements persisted for as long as a year.

Science, this issue p. 47


Many poor children are underprepared for demanding primary school curricula. Research in cognitive science suggests that school achievement could be improved by preschool pedagogy in which numerate adults engage children’s spontaneous, nonsymbolic mathematical concepts. To test this suggestion, we designed and evaluated a game-based preschool curriculum intended to exercise children’s emerging skills in number and geometry. In a randomized field experiment with 1540 children (average age 4.9 years) in 214 Indian preschools, 4 months of math game play yielded marked and enduring improvement on the exercised intuitive abilities, relative to no-treatment and active control conditions. Math-trained children also showed immediate gains on symbolic mathematical skills but displayed no advantage in subsequent learning of the language and concepts of school mathematics.

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