Diversity and Inclusion Hub

EDI and Education across income groups

Professor Nicola Pitchford, School of Psychology, Faculty of Science

Professor Pitchford’s recent research explores the use of innovative mobile technology to support the acquisition of basic skills (numeracy, literacy, English) by primary school children in Malawi, the UK, and several other countries. In Malawi where there are often 90 children per class, learning basic numeracy skills is key to the development and well-being of each child. Professor Pitchford developed an app that enables children to learn 18 months of Mathematics in just 6 weeks. The app requires no prior knowledge of Mathematics and each child works at their own pace. At the end of each section, they are tested. If they get 10/10 they pass, collect a certificate and move on the next level with the result that performances in schools are not only improving, they are rocketing. Professor Pitchford affirms that teaching every concept rigorously and testing learning progressively plays a big role in the success of the programme. The fact that children get immediate feedback on whether they get an answer right seems to play a key role in the success of the programme.

The app has an important EDI component. The results demonstrate that girls and boys learn at the same pace. The app bridges the gender gap by providing girls with the opportunity to learn Mathematics and demonstrating that girls learn Mathematics at the same pace as boys while the latter learn literacy skills at the same pace as girls. The project thereby dismantles a stereotypical gender association with subject matter and holds the potential to positively impact deeply entrenched practices such as FGM. The ESRC funded project has resulted in a parental awareness programme in Tanzania in which Professor Pitchford has presented the research evidence to demonstrate that girls learn as well as boys, that they have similar economic value and should therefore be encouraged to stay in school. The aim is to change parents’ perception of girls and inhibit FGM which has an economic value.

The app has been tested in a school in Nottingham through daily 30 mins sessions with the same results demonstrating that something originally made for Africa can work in England too. With funding from the Education Endowment Foundation, as one of 18 of their promising projects, the app was developed by onebillion, a not-for-profit organisation. The onebillion app-based Mathematics learning trial has now been translated in 52 languages and targeted to disadvantaged students worldwide with the objective of closing attainment gaps. The onebillion programme consists of two apps that are designed to support the acquisition of basic mathematical skills for pupils aged 3-6. This project tested the impact of the apps on pupils in year 1 who had been identified by their teachers as being in the bottom half of the class in mathematics. By replicating the same results across different countries with big income difference, the study demonstrates that universal learning principles are at play. The revolutionary finding is that educational technological apps equalise opportunities for different groups of people, children with special needs, children across different countries, children who would not usually access school, children from refugee groups. The universal principle in design that the app is tapping into shows that one should really not have to accept differences as variants which determine learning success. Professor Pitchford’s work might be questioning the very basis of difference.

Professor Pitchford points out that while her colleagues and the UoN are supportive of her work, there is a REF quality issue. Often publications resulting from policy-oriented research are evaluation papers and proofs of concept, and would count as 3-star ratings. Policy-oriented research does not lend itself to 4-star publications. The challenge, therefore, is to think creatively about her publications and she is open to opportunities that she has not thought through especially since her background is one of developmental neuro-psychology rather than education. Professor Pitchford is of the view that if UoN is to encourage EDI research then the REF challenges should also be considered and mitigated. Like Dr Kidd, she would like to see the D&IRH host a round table to address publication challenges for EDI researchers.

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Diversity and Inclusion Hub

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