Research finds Malawi app 'teaches UK children 18 months of maths in six weeks'

06 Sep 2014 16:11:46.933


Psychologists at The University of Nottingham have found that an app designed to boost the education of children in Malawi has also proved to be a highly effective learning tool for UK primary schoolchildren.

The study has found that in just six weeks of using the maths app on personal tablets in the classroom, children made as much progress as would be expected in 12 to 18 months of class teaching.

The app was produced by the charity Onebillion and has been trialled extensively in Malawi by Dr Nikki Pitchford from the University’s School of Psychology. She and her co-researchers carried out field testing to assess the effectiveness of the system. Children in Malawi often only receive a very basic education with classes of 90 pupils or more to one teacher so the results of the randomised controlled trial were significant. 
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Malawi-UK comparison

Dr Pitchford said: “We found the app boosted the children’s maths knowledge to a much greater extent than we expected. Indeed it was so effective in Malawi that it begged a comparative test on children in the UK. Dunkirk Primary in Nottingham agreed to take part and allow us to carry out an identical study. What was so incredible was that in both countries we saw the same gain. One week of working on the tablets for 30 minutes a day equalled three months of formal education. We were amazed at the results."

The Onebillion app is similar to a simple computer game in which users have to score full marks in tests to progress to the next level but it based on the national curriculum for maths. Children are encouraged in their success by large yellow ticks and congratulatory certificates when they complete a level. The level of maths is designed to be very basic without assuming any previous knowledge. In the UK this would apply to children aged 4 to 5 years but in Malawi, older children who have had little or no maths tuition benefit similarly.

'Maths and ICT key to children's futures'

The charity says the system is not designed to replace normal class or group teaching but to supplement it and the children’s time using it was limited to 30 minutes. Dunkirk Primary teacher Rachel Jurkiw said: “In today's society, we have to teach children ICT because it's so important in future careers. The earlier we teach them, the more successful they are later on in their ICT skills. We did find that after 30 minutes of using the app most of the children have had enough and want to go and play outside."

Ambition for Onebillion

Andrew Ashe from Onebillion said: “Our ambition is to give all children in Malawi access to basic maths education. If you don’t have basic numeracy you can’t do anything, even a job selling tomatoes at a market stall is denied you. So we believe these skills are almost a human right.”

Together with VSO, Onebillion and The University of Nottingham plan to roll the tablet app project out across the whole of Malawi to help improve the chances of children facing extreme adversity.

The BBC Click Show has visited the Onebillion/University of Nottingham project in Malawi and in Nottingham. The report is available here .

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and one of the world’s greenest universities

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information from: Dr Nikki Pitchford, School of Psychology, on +44 (0)115 951 5287 


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