Researchers have found that tablet computers loaded with literacy applications could improve the reading preparedness of young children living in economically disadvantaged communities.
The results of first three trials of the study were presented recently at the Association for Computing Machinery's Learning at Scale conference in Britain.
In all three cases, study participants' performance on standardised tests of reading preparedness indicated that the tablet use was effective.
The trials examined a range of educational environments. One was set in a pair of rural Ethiopian villages with no schools and no written culture; one was set in a suburban South African school with a student-to-teacher ratio of 60 to one; and one was set in a rural US school with predominantly low-income students.
In the African deployments, students who used the tablets fared much better on the tests than those who did not, and in the US deployment, the students' scores improved dramatically after four months of using the tablets.
"The whole premise of our project is to harness the best science and innovation to bring education to the world's most underresourced children," said study first author Cynthia Breazeal, associate professor of media arts and sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.
The experiments consisted of an inexpensive tablet computer using Google's Android operating system.
The researchers also developed their own interface for the tablets, which grants users access only to approved educational apps. Across the three deployments, the tablets were issued to children ranging in age from four to 11.
"When we do these deployments, we purposely don't tell the kids how to use the tablets or instruct them about any of the content," Breazeal said.