Digital revolution in Malawian education
Following the Education Secretary’s recent visit, Andrew Ashe of Eurotalk outlines how new techology for schools in Malawi is making a real difference.
The Scottish Government has funded EuroTalk’s project with the Malawi Ministry of Education since 2010. The project delivers digital material in support of the primary curriculum and includes the provision of electronic tablets in a promising intervention to improve primary education.
iPod Touches, purchased with its help, are already being used in 30 Malawi primary schools. Their use is continually monitored, and reported weekly via SMS. One school is also testing ten refurbished iPads.
EuroTalk is providing free content for the tablets. This includes maths lessons (in Chichewa) for the first two years of primary school, Standard 1 and Standard 2.
In many primary schools in Malawi, classes are very large (100 to 200 children), which makes it almost impossible to offer any individual teaching, or identify children who fall behind. The teachers themselves may have received poor training and there are few books, or other resources, to help. The result is that standards are low and many children drop out each year. A 2010 assessment showed that the standard of maths education in Malawi is low to very low.
There are many advantages in supporting teachers by delivering well-designed and well-written content on tablets. The child enjoys the equivalent of one-to-one interactive teaching, even in a crowded classroom. The lessons are of consistent quality, with clear objectives. Children can proceed at their own pace, repeating material as often as they wish, and their progress can be easily tracked.
Maths is hugely important in helping people become economically active, even at the most basic level, and lends itself well to the types of activities that can be carried out on tablets.
The apps offer a wide variety of engaging activities, while delivering serious teaching. The ‘teacher’ appears on screen at key points, speaking directly to the child. Her voice gives instructions and feedback, and her hand demonstrates what to do. There is no text at the start, so reading ability is not an issue. Throughout, children are encouraged by ticks and stars, with a certificate at the end of each successful quiz.
The English version of Masamu 1, called ‘Maths, age 3–5′, is currently on sale in the App Store, and receiving glowing reviews. Since its launch in January 2012, it has been downloaded 400,000 times. It has almost continually been in the top 10 grossing apps in iPad education, and very frequently number one.
Similar high levels of satisfaction are being reported in Malawi. If tablets are deemed successful in helping to raise the standard of primary education, their use can be scaled up, for a range of subjects. The unit cost of the hardware is reducing. Widespread use of tablets for primary education could see a substantial improvement in educational standards and engagement.
Education Secretary Michael Russell visited Malawi last week (October 27-November 3)
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