Ethiopia tabletsA recent presentation in Scotland, at the Third Annual ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Conference on Learning at Scale, in Edinburgh, presents the fascinating results of some experiments in using tablets and e-reading to foster literacy in kids – in wildly different environments. The paper, “Mobile Devices for Early Literacy Intervention and Research with Global Reach,” describes the results of “an approach using mobile devices with the ultimate goal to reach 770 million people. We developed a novel platform with a cloud backend to deliver educational content to over a thousand marginalized children in different countries.”

As detailed in, reporting on the conference, researchers at MIT, Tufts University, and Georgia State University deployed “tablet computers loaded with literacy applications” in “a pair of rural Ethiopian villages with no schools and no written culture; one was set in a suburban South African school with a student-to-teacher ratio of 60 to 1; and one was set in a rural U.S. school with predominantly low-income students.” As a result, “in the African deployments, students who used the tablets fared much better on the tests than those who didn’t, and in the U.S. deployment, the students’ scores improved dramatically after four months of using the tablets.”

According to Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and one of the authors of the study, “there’s a lot of innovation happening if you’re around eight years old and can type and move a mouse around. But there’s relatively little innovation happening with the early-childhood-learning age group, and there’s a ton of science saying that that’s where you get tremendous bang for your buck. You’ve got to intervene as early as possible.”

The deployment was based on “an inexpensive tablet computer using Google’s Android operating system” as well as a select choice of “the literacy and early-childhood apps available for Android devices.” The whole program was designed to demonstrate that such solutions “could improve the reading preparedness of young children living in economically disadvantaged communities.” And it seems that goal has been achieved without any complaints about the woes of e-reading for kids.


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