ROOM II — Tuesday, 17:10-18:30

Unlocking talent through technology: Improving learning outcomes of primary school children in Malawi

In Malawi, girls’ primary school enrolment has almost reached parity with that of boys (50.1% girls and 49.9% boys – EMIS 2012). Despite the progress made in enrolment, Malawi’s education system faces many challenges, with high drop-out and repetition rates as well as limited access to teaching and learning materials, and pupils’ learning achievements remain a serious concern. Girls’ retention rate from the first to eighth grade of primary school is only 27%, compared to 35% for boys – an 8 percentage point drop from the previous year (EMIS 2012). Learning outcomes show lower performance of female students compared to males. Girls’ performance in primary reading and mathematics assessments and national examinations lags behind boys. Girls’ national examinations pass rates are 13 digits lower than boys at the end of primary and secondary school. In order to address gender disparity in learning, Onebillion, the University of Nottingham and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) piloted a tablet-based intervention for supporting the development of numeracy skills of primary school children in Malawi, which was delivered over an 8-week period for 30 minutes per day. A Randomised Control Trial (RCT) was conducted in a medium-sized primary school in Lilongwe, in which 400 children from Standard 1–4 were randomly allocated to one of three intervention groups: a tablet-based mathematics (Masamu) intervention group, a tablet-based non-Masamu control group, and a normal-practice control group. 

The evaluation found that in just 8 weeks of using the mathematics app on personal tablets in the classroom, children made more progress than would be expected in 12–18 months of classroom teaching. Importantly, girls responded just as well as boys to the intervention, suggesting that this app could be a particularly effective means of engaging girls in primary school education and advancing their learning. 

In this presentation, we share how a partnership model between NGOs, academic institutions and the corporate sector, in collaboration with governments, can work together effectively to improve marginalized children’s development of early numeracy and literacy skills – which are the bedrock of further scholastic progression. Working partnerships such as these mobilize knowledge efficiently to optimize equality of opportunities for all.

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Nicola Pitchford

Dr Nicola Pitchford is an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham in the UK. Her research expertise lies in the field of developmental neuropsychology, more specifically how the cognitive processes that underpin scholastic progression develop over childhood. She works with specialist populations of children with acquired neurological disorders. Her clinical research centres on discovering how stroke, preterm birth and brain tumour impact on scholastic and neuronal development and well-being. 

Dr Pitchford works at the interface of theory and practice. She collaborates with academics from different disciplines (e.g. psychology, medicine, education) and works with practitioners and professionals from a diverse range of fields (e.g. neurologists, neonatologists, oncologists, nurses, educators, companies, charities, NGOs and government officials) to ensure that her research secures maximum benefits for key users and stakeholders. Her most recent research explores the use of innovative mobile technology to support the acquisition of basic skills (numeracy, literacy, English) by primary school children in Malawi and the UK. This exciting programme of work is being carried out in partnership with the charities Onebillion and VSO. The evaluation studies she has designed and conducted, in both Malawi and the UK, have led to global interest following BBC coverage, as her research formed the subject of a BBC Click documentary that was also released on BBC Worldwide News. 

Dr Pitchford is also Guest Editor for the internationally renowned scientific open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, which is currently publishing a collection of papers reporting on ‘Using technology to revolutionise learning: Assessment, intervention, evaluation and historical perspectives’.

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Twitter: @NicolaPitchford

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