Mobiles for literacy in developing countries: An effectiveness framework

Daniel A. Wagner, Nathan M. Castillo, Katie M. Murphy, Molly Crofton, Fatima Tuz Zahra
2014 Prospect: Quarterly Review of Comparative Education  
In recent years, the advent of low-cost digital and mobile devices has led to a strong expansion of social interventions, including those that try to improve student learning and literacy outcomes. Many of these are focused on improving reading in lowincome countries, and particularly among the most disadvantaged. Some of these early efforts have been called successful, but little credible evidence exists for those claims. Drawing on a robust sample of projects in the domain of mobiles for
more » ... acy, this article introduces a design solution framework that combines intervention purposes with devices, end users, and local contexts. In combination with a suggested set of purpose-driven methods for monitoring and evaluation, this new framework provides useful parameters for measuring effectiveness in the domain of mobiles for literacy. New technologies are of growing importance around the world, and in many facets of everyday lives and livelihoods. These information and communications technologies (ICTs), especially mobile devices, may have special benefits for learning, both in and out of schools. At the same time, major claims are often made about the success of particular devices, before substantial research has been undertaken. In this article, drawing on Wagner, Murphy, and deKorne (2012) and Wagner (2013a, 2013b), we explore the current state of literacy and mobiles, and recommend ways to incorporate improved monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plans for the future. According to a recent report by UNESCO (2013), this is the first time in history that the world has more connected mobile devices than people. Despite the ubiquity of mobile technologies and their increased use in educational settings, little empirical evidence supports their use for learning. More common are anecdotal accounts that do not necessarily indicate real learning gains or broader contextual impacts. At the same time, available evidence from developing countries reveals that significant progress has been made toward international goals for education. Enrolment is up on average, and in many countries gender parity is approaching the Education for All (EFA) target of equity (UNESCO 2012). In addition, the types of educational resources found within many schools have evolved. ICT applications to promote learning within schools are increasingly apparent, even in poor schools, leading to concerns about equitable access to Internet connections, computers, and mobile phones. Such transformations in infrastructure offer a sense of future possibility to many students and teachers in poor regions who may have earlier felt cut off from a globalizing world. A major challenge remains in educational development: how best to produce quality learning experiences. Put more directly, access to schooling is no longer sufficient, and merely being enrolled in school does not guarantee that a student is learning (Wagner et al. 2012; also see Brookings (2011). Early efforts around reading and literacy instruction relied on available resources that were limited to standard classroom inputs, such as texts, chalkboards, and workbooks-and the teachers who implemented them. Data on outcomes were collected through observation or paper-and-pencil assessments, and analyses were conducted at a central level with dissemination limited to bureaucrats and policy-makers. With advances in ICT design and manufacturing, available devices have proliferated, and they cost a fraction of earlier versions. In the development context, mobile phones, and increasingly tablet devices, are outpacing other forms of technology at an exponential rate (see Figure 1 ). This new reality translates into several possible benefits for education planners. First, it is now easier to access, and experiment with, multimedia and other electronic content for subject-matter instruction, both in and outside the traditional classroom setting. Second, data collection and feedback take significantly less time and effort. Third, ICTs can empower communities by making information more accessible. Given these and other appealing benefits of ICT innovations for literacy, coupled with the diminishing costs of procurement, it is no surprise that the interest in, and associated trends in spending levels, for such interventions have steadily increased around the world (see Figure 2 ).
doi:10.1007/s11125-014-9298-x fatcat:3gqm2gy2obbqvbdihxwdxigt2i