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Education in developing countries transformed with mobile phone apps

  • Mobile phone apps can revolutionise school learning in developing countries, where access to educational resources are less accessible - according to research by the University of Warwick
  • Researcher designed app to be used by science and maths pupils in South African schools – they found it much easier to interact with teaching and to study at home
  • Pupils’ native language often different to language used in classrooms – learning apps allow them to switch between languages, making learning easier and more fluid
  • Mobile phone coverage is extensive, even in developing countries – can make up for shortages of educational resources and technology

Mobile phone apps can revolutionise school learning in developing countries, where access to educational resources are less accessible, according to research by the University of Warwick.

phoneDr Mmaki Jantjies, who conducted the research while she was a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at Warwick, designed an e-learning app for maths and science pupils in South African schools, and found it enabled them to engage and succeed in classes - much more than with traditional classroom methods.

Pupils aged 16-18 from four schools across South Africa – both urban and rural, affluent and less well-off – were provided with mobile phones, pre-loaded with the app, and with sufficient internet data to allow them to study at school and at home.

The app, called M-Thuto, was designed and contextualised to supplement the classroom teaching - containing class notes, access to online learning material and text book content, as well as quizzes and exercises based on classroom teaching.

It was developed in consultation with school teachers and government subject advisors in the country.

The content on the app was available in both English (the official language of the classroom) and Setswana (spoken widely in communities).

Students reported that it was much easier to interact with the concepts they were being taught, and to retain the information, because the app allowed them to constantly switch between more formal English and their native Setswana – making the learning process linguistically fluid and natural.

The app also allowed pupils to continue their studying at home, something which would otherwise have been impossible, as computers are not always accessible in rural areas of South Africa.

Of the school kids in the study, a little over 20% had access to a computer at home on which they could revise. However, around half of them generally had access to a mobile phone – and mobile data networks are widespread, even in rural areas.

Schools in areas of South Africa, and other developing countries, are often held back by a shortage of learning resources and technology to assist education, with teachers and students often relying on taking notes in class.

Mobile phone technology is easily accessible, relatively cheap and portable, and can make up for resource shortages – allowing flexible, effective learning to take place in almost any school, around the world.

Dr Jantjies comments:

“The study reflects on the important role of education technology in supporting to address contextual challenges such as language barriers as well as electronic resources in STEM subjects.”

The research was initiated while Dr Jantjies was a PHD student at the University of Warwick under the supervision of Associate Professor Mike Joy in the Department of Computer Science.

He comments:

“This study demonstrates how simple use of new technologies can have a profound influence on education in many developing countries.”

Dr Jantjies now Heads the Information Systems Department at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.

The full study, ‘Teaching through mobile technology, a reflection from high school studies in South Africa’, is published in the Handbook of Research on Instructional Systems and Educational Technology.

Image - Creative Commons: Untitled, by Startup Stock Photos

5 June 2017

Further information, contact:

Luke Walton, International Press Officer

+44 (0) 7824 540 863

+44 (0) 2476 150 868

L dot Walton dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk