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6 Ways Educational Technology Projects Can Improve Children’s Literacy

By Wayan Vota on November 26, 2018

educational technology

Families and communities have a tremendous role to play in improving educational and reading outcomes for children around the globe.

Recognizing the power of this holistic approach to child literacy, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD)—a partnership between USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government—made family and community engagement a key focus area of its recent grant and prize competitions that source educational technology innovations to improve the early grade literacy skills of children in developing countries.

Starting in 2015, four grants were awarded to organizations to pilot projects focused on engaging families and communities around the world in helping children learn to read.

One such award was given to Creative Associates International’s Makhalidwe Athu project, which crowdsourced 267 local short stories in ciNyanja from families and community members and texted 41 of these short stories, in segments,  three times per week to parents’ mobile phones.

Supplemented with monthly meetings that engaged parents and caretakers of children including Thandi, the project resulted in statistically significant improvements in reading fluency and comprehension among children. Further, 88 percent of households that received the stories reported they discussed the stories and comprehension questions with their children.

6 Ways EduTech Improves Child Literacy

ACR GCD’s commitment to robust research was critical in measuring the impact families and communities play in improving child literacy. In collaboration with research firm School-to-School International, our new report, Engaging Families and Communities to Support Student Reading Skills Development, outlines six ways future edTech projects can use technology to engage families and communities and improve children’s literacy:

1. Leverage key data points to address challenges and boost impact.

Projects that measured levels of engagement—such as family attendance at training or workshops, or the number of face-to-face support visits conducted by staff with families—were better positioned to respond to key challenges limiting families’ abilities to engage in projects. This data can also help implementers understand how variables such as workshop attendance support and impact the final project results.

2. Measure participants’ attitudes throughout the project lifecycle.

Projects for which family and community engagement is an essential component should regularly capture information regarding parent and caretaker beliefs and perceptions about their ability to support their children’s learning, family time spent reading with children outside of school, changes in specific skills and knowledge, and any changes in cultural perceptions about the role of parents and caretakers in education.

3. See projects through the eyes of key stakeholders.

Anecdotal feedback from families indicated lack of time was a major hindrance in engaging with children’s reading. Projects that considered the limitations of parents’ and caretakers’ time and energy were better positioned to develop approaches that addressed these challenges. Education projects should always consider the underlying barriers to participation and develop creative ways to overcome them.

4. Training is essential for securing buy-in from families.

Some of the major barriers that impede families’ engagement relate to perceptions about their sense of personal or shared responsibility for their children’s educational outcomes, their sense of efficacy, and the cultural issues surrounding whether they should be involved at all.

Across projects, qualitative research indicated that families did not recognize whether, or how, they should support their children; a common belief was that teaching is the responsibility of  teachers and schools. Projects that engage families and communities in supporting their children’s learning should continue to explore heavier-touch interventions that support family learning.

5. Make schools part of the solution.

While these family-focused projects were not implemented within schools, anecdotal evidence from three projects suggested that teachers and school directors were interested in using the materials provided to families in their classrooms.

Future implementers could facilitate linkages between projects that are implemented inside the classroom and those implemented out of school to create new opportunities for parents to engage in their children’s learning within schools.

6. User-centered design is vital.

ACR GCD-funded projects used either family-owned or community-based technologies to deliver reading materials. For those that delivered content directly to families’ or caretakers’ phones, anecdotal and qualitative evidence suggested the potential for this method to improve family engagement, though it could also limit children’s access if parents or caretakers were out of the home.

For projects implemented using community libraries, families and communities were not directly engaged through the technologies, as children could attend libraries by themselves. Future research could explore whether family engagement increased through interventions delivered via family-owned technologies, and what technological approaches result in the greatest reading gains for children.

These recommendations are part of our full report, Engaging Families and Communities to Support Student Reading Skills Development available now.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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