It All Adds Up: Mobile Learning and Numeracy Education

GizAccording to the Education for All (EFA) goals, all children should achieve ‘recognised and measurable learning outcomes…especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills’ by 2015. While literacy has come a long way, numeracy has been largely neglected as a goal by the international education agenda so far. By grade four, many children worldwide do not master basic numeracy competencies such as measuring, estimating or simple operations. However, it is these very basic competencies, besides reading and writing, which form the foundation for all future learning and provide opportunities for children to become active members of their societies.

By Debashree Roy, GIZ Sector Programme Numeracy

Recognising this fact, the German Government commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to support the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in collaboratively promoting numeracy skills in pre-school and early grades. One of the main subtopics of this collaboration is mobile education for numeracy.

Mobile education is seen to have great potentials in assisting the improvement of early-grade numeracy learning. The trends are promising as the penetration of mobile devices in developing countries increases, the price of mobile devices decreases and technology develops at its fascinating pace. It is for these reasons that both, GPE and the BMZ/GIZ has chosen to make mobile education for numeracy one of its focal topics within its efforts in numeracy education.

Given the great optimism in the role of mobile devices in furthering reading and writing skills, GIZ has commissioned an in-depth study into the potential use of mobile devices in numeracy education in early grades in developing countries. The study, titled Mobile Learning and Numeracy: Filling gaps and expanding opportunities for early grade learning, was published in December 2012.

Although the term ‘literacy’ in the original EFA goals can be interpreted in multiple ways, including reading, writing and counting skills, the attention of the media and development agencies has often remained restricted to reading and writing skills, only. However, when one thinks about the demands of daily life, the significance of numeracy skills is unquestionable. To quote the study, ‘Whether to decide in which line to queue up, at which market stand the tomatoes are cheaper or how many one can purchase for the money one has, the number of sheep in a flock, how to hit the ball in the upper right corner of the goal, or the design of a new car or building, mathematical concepts are deeply embedded in our activities and contexts’.

The empirical evidence provides strong support for the importance of early numeracy skills. Over the past years, several studies have revealed that school-entry level maths is a strong predictor of later achievement not only in mathematics but also in reading (e.g. Duncan et al. 2007). In fact, it is an even stronger predictor than school-entry level reading. Neglecting the importance of early numeracy skills threatens later learning outcomes in numeracy and in reading.

It is difficult to anticipate a homogenous trend in early-grade numeracy learning among the multiple and different countries that could be categorised as ‘developing’. However, our hope at GIZ is to encourage a broader understanding of maths in the early grades and even pre-school levels. We would like to support the use of creativity in classrooms and outside of it to understand and implement maths in real life. We hope to support parents in participating more actively in transmitting their numeracy knowledge to young children at home. We hope that the fear associated with maths can be gradually removed at an early age and that the symbolic and vague nature of maths formulae can be transmitted into every day and unnoticeable practice of numeracy skills in life outside the classroom.

The African success story of M-Pesa is one that proves the fact that an application that brings unforeseen benefits to its targets can work against initial suspicion of its potential in a developing country. In the same spirit, we would like to explore the potential of mobile devices in improving numeracy learning outcomes.

Our study documents, as expected, the fact that even though mobile learning has been long experimented with, there still exists a lack of evidence in its effects in large-scale, long-term projects that lead to improved learning outcomes. It reconfirmed our belief that there exists a need to fill this gap by investing more into evidence collection of the effects of use of mobile applications on the learning outcomes of school children.

Carmen Strigel and Sarah Pouezevara, the authors of the above mentioned study, will be presenting their findings in a webinar, on behalf of the GIZ and hosted on the mEducation Alliance Website, in July, 2013. For more information about the webinar, please contact numeracy@giz.de.

Debashree Roy is the Education Advisor in the Education Section, Department of Education, Health and Social Protection, GIZ.


One Comment

  1. Roy, this is an impressive piece.
    please advise me on what kind of infrastructure I need to set up for mNumeracy especially for nursery and primary schools to catalyse learning outcomes for students, teachers and the patents.
    Publicity, Global Compact Network Uganda

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