texting improves literacy … in Niger, anyway

from the new paper ABC, 123: Can Mobile Phones Improve Learning? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Niger, from Jenny Aker, Christopher Ksoll, and Travis Lybbert:

"The returns to educational investments hinge on whether such investments can improve the quality and persistence of educational gains. This has often been a challenge in adult education programs, which are typically characterized by rapid skills depreciation. We report the results from a randomized evaluation of an adult education program (Project ABC) in Niger, in which adult students learned how to use simple mobile phones as part of a literacy and numeracy class. Overall, students demonstrated substantial improvements in writing and math skills, achieving a first-grade level within eight months of classes. Students in ABC villages achieved additional literacy and numeracy gains, with test scores 9-20 percent higher than those in non-ABC villages. Evidence suggests that there are persistent impacts of the program: seven months after the end of classes, average test scores are still higher in ABC villages. These effects do not appear to be driven by differences in class time devoted to students, teacher characteristics or teacher attendance. Rather they are largely explained by the effectiveness of mobile phones as a motivational and educational tool: students in ABC villages used mobile phones in more active ways and showed a higher interest in education. These results suggest that simple and cheap information technology can be harnessed to improve educational outcomes among rural populations."

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