March 16, 2022
A recent intervention by the World Bank that provided children with cell phones preloaded with two EdTech solutions–developed with support and funding from All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD)–provides compelling evidence that EdTech can improve reading outcomes for children in low resource contexts in as little as five days, with learning outcomes continuing to improve one month out.
The DIME Movies and Mobiles study engaged 9,000 Nigerian households with children between the ages of 6-9 with film screenings aimed at motivating parents to support their children’s education and reshape attitudes around gender bias along with a lottery in which one-third of the participants received smartphones preloaded with access to the Global Digital Library (GDL) and Feed the Monster. During the 5-day intervention and one-month follow-up, the children who received the phones as well as their siblings saw substantially increased literacy and numeracy test scores, leading the World Bank to recommend that EdTech interventions like this should be considered in programs and projects addressing literacy, education and child protection.
GDL and Feed the Monster
In 2014, ACR GCD initiated the idea for a Global Digital Library, which became the first flagship activity for the Global Book Alliance. ACR GCD and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) conducted joint feasibility work in 2015 and 2016, outlining important parameters for the project. Today, the open-source online platform is home to more than 6000 books in 90 languages–all of which can be read and translated on web and mobile platforms as well as downloaded or printed. ACR GCD innovators continue to contribute content regularly to the platform.
Feed the Monster was developed in 2016 during the EduApp4Syria Prize, which was jointly funded by ACR GCD, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), mobile operator Orange, and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). The project sought the development of smartphone apps to build foundational literacy skills and improve psychosocial well-being for Syrian refugee children who were out of or struggling in school. When evaluating the impact of Feed the Monster, ACR GCD found that children using the app scored higher on oral reading fluency, which is a strong predictor of reading comprehension. Data also showed girls making gains, indicating that the app could provide girls who are denied other opportunities a chance to acquire and improve literacy skills.
Both solutions are examples of ACR GCD’s commitment to open source and scalable solutions. By providing open licensed content, GDL has increased the availability of high-quality reading resources in languages children use and understand. Feed the Monster, originally developed in English and Arabic, has been translated into an additional 48 languages by Curious Learning after adapting the open source code, which is available on GitHub. The app, available on Google Play, now has more than 478,000 users globally, according to Curious Learning’s Follow the Learners dashboard.
Key findings in the World Bank intervention
In an online presentation about the intervention, the World Bank reported on the background and key findings of the low-cost, light-intervention study.
In northern Nigeria, the location of the intervention, 40% of adults lack formal education and less than 10% of parents read to their children. Only around 50% of the children attend primary school, around 35% of girls get married before turning 15, and the language used at school is rarely the one spoken in the home. Zero scores are common in third grade literacy tests. In other words, students could not read one single word in this language.
The Movies & Mobiles intervention included two components: aspirational films to reshape parents’ educational and gender attitudes and $40 smartphones preloaded with GDL and Feed the Monster to increase the number of “study hours” available to children. Through a public lottery, one third of those who attended the films won a smartphone and picked them up in digital literacy sessions.
Researchers invited households living close to schools to the locations for community screenings of the films, which took place over weekends. Around 90% of the households invited attended the screenings, and 100% of those who won smartphones picked them up.
When evaluating the data collected from the study, the World Bank reported that the aspirational films had a positive effect on parents’ attitudes on education and gender. School attendance increased by 34% and parents’ attitudes around girls shifted, with a 6% increase in parents’ aspirations to allow girls to attend school at 15 and up to a 16% increase in parents’ preference to delay daughters’ marriage age.
Notably, the children who also received the preloaded smartphones saw significantly improved learning outcomes. After using the apps for an average of around 8 hours during the first week, the children scored higher in a series of Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) modules; aggregating eight modules, the World Bank reported literacy impacts of .18 standard deviations.*
There was also a spillover effect on siblings 6-12 years old. The World Bank reported a 10% decrease in zero scores in letter recognition, only slightly lower than the 11.3 decrease for the child receiving the phone. Siblings also saw a .16-.23 stand deviation increase in numeracy modules. In other words, the use of the preloaded smartphones had a statistically significant effect of improving reading both with the children receiving the phones and their siblings.
In addition, households in which children received the preloaded smartphones saw a 22% increase in parents reading to their children and a 25% decrease in the belief that parental education is an obstacle for helping their children learn.
The World Bank researchers concluded that low cost, light interventions utilizing EdTech solutions can have a significant impact on literacy for children in low resource contexts. While longer interventions, like learning camps with volunteers, can be more effective, they also require higher cost and effort. To address the learning crises exacerbated by the pandemic, the researchers recommended the acceleration of testing mobile-based solutions for both offline and online populations.
Looking for EdTech to increase literacy in your region or program?
ACR GCD is firmly committed to open source solutions to support innovators, solvers and users in the education sector around the world. Below are additional ACR GCD solutions that can be accessed or adapted for use in homes, schools, reading camps and other contexts to help increase literacy for children:
- Antura and the Letters. Originally developed in Arabic for Syrian children who were out of school or struggling in school, this smartphone app uses the properties of play to build foundational literacy skills and improve psychosocial well-being. Available in Arabic (Google Play|App Store|Windows), French (Google Play|App Store), English (Google Play| App Store) and Darija (Google Play|App Store).
- Graphogame. A learning app, game and methodology for teaching early literacy to kindergarten and primary school children in multiple languages. Download in American and British English, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Venezuela), Dutch, Pinyin and for residents of Jamaica and Guyana. Read an evaluation report about the GraphoGame Teacher Training Service project in Zambia.
- KitKit School. A finalist in ACR GC’s Sign On for Literacy prize and a co-winner of the Global Learning XPRIZE, KitKit School tablet-based learning program that includes a suite of games, books, videos and art and music tools to support children in developing countries in learning literacy and math skills independently. Learn more about and request to download KitKit School at kitkitchool.com.
- Qysas. Developed by LIttle Thinking Minds during the 2014 ACR GCD Grant Competition to develop effective and low-cost EdTech solutions for improving reading scores of children in developing countries, this digital library offers free leveled children’s stories in Arabic. Read an evaluation report about the implementation of Qysas in Jordanand how the platform scaled.
- SmartBooks. Developed by Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE) as an ACR GCD grantee, the SmartBooks smartphone app offers more than 70 leveled stories and digital quizzes in the Khmer language to help improve early grade literacy skills of children in Cambodia. Read an evaluation report on the project. Access the app on Google Play.
Below are additional apps and platforms to access and create educational and literacy content:
- eKitabu App. This e-reader provides access to accessible children’s books and sign language storybooks via smartphone or tablet. Download as a Windows or Android App or access online as a cloud reader. eKitabu also created the Accessible EPUB Toolkit, a step by step guide to help publishers and others create accessible EPUBs with image descriptions, accessible navigation, dyslexic fonts and optional sign language videos.
- Bloom Library. Developed by SIL LEAD, this online library contains accessible books in many languages, including sign languages; the library is also accessible through the Bloom Reader, available on Google Play, and through an EPUB viewer on Windows. The platform also provides free book creation software which allows authors to create talking books, comic books, books for the blind, sign language books and books with interactive activities which can then be published as ebooks for websites and stand-alone mobile apps.
- Let’s Read. Created by The Asia Foundation, the platform is Asia’s only free digital library for children with resources and books that explore important topics that can be downloaded and printed for offline use.
- World Around You. Created by Rochester Institute for Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the platform hosts a collection of sign language storybooks created through open source software that enables communities to create and share digital books and literacy content in local and national sign languages
- Asafeer. This library contains an online collection of quality, cost-efficient and trackable resources and books in Arabic, including 100 audible, leveled, accessible STEM-themed books created through the ACR GCD No Lost Generation Summit Prize. The library is also available as an app on Google Play and the App Store.
Be part of the solution
ACR GCD–a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government–believes that education in the 21st century must leverage innovation and technology to help children learn to read, complete school and escape poverty. EdTech innovation and approaches continue to be proven to help address gaps and barriers to child literacy in and outside of school and in crisis and emergency situations. While not a replacement for traditional education, EdTech can serve as an effective supplement to traditional learning and can positively influence the learning of children who lack access to school.
We invite you to be part of the solution for the more than 584 million children globally waiting for the opportunity to learn to read:
- Explore more solutions and tools to help you increase literacy opportunities for marginalized children in your work and programming.
- Get involved by signing up for the ACR GCD newsletter to get the latest news about opportunities, ideas and EdTech innovations to increase reading outcomes.
- Partner with us to pilot or scale a solution or innovation in your community.
Together, we can advance EdTech solutions to improve reading outcomes for marginalized children and change the course of education across the world.
* As a matter of perspective, over the course of a business‐as‐usual school year, students learn between 0.15 and 0.21 standard deviation of literacy ability.