Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India

The impact of technology-aided teaching on the development of middle school students skills in math and Hindi.

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Introduction

Human capital is a key ingredient for the continued progress of a developing country, and is largely determined by the education the children receive. Even though these countries have seen improvement in school enrollment over the years, the quality of the education received is in question. The use of technology in teaching has said to be a top qualifier in fixing this problem, but past studies have shown in mixed results. The experiment conducted in “Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India” by Karthik Muralidharan, Abhijeet Singh, and Alejandro J. Ganimian, aimed to see the impact of a technology-led instructional programs that focused on attention to design detail to accommodate individual student development. To address this, the experiment only looked at the results of student’s math and Hindi skills, even though English was also subject.

Method

The experiment was conducted in 2015 in low income neighborhoods in Delhi, where children would enroll in an after-school program held in Mindspark centers, an established Indian education firm. There the children would use the centers’ computers and software to complete activities on math, Hindi, and English for a fee of INR 200 (USD 3) per month. With the use of their Mindspark CAL software, the program would determine a student’s learning level and then customize the learning material to match it, while adjusting to their rate of progress. Students were expected to sign up for 90 minute sessions at the center for 6 days a week where half that time was just computer based instructions and the other 45 minutes were supervised instructor-led-group based. Out of the 6 days enrolled, the material was split so that two days were dedicated to math, two days were dedicated to Hindi, one day was dedicated to English, and one day where the student could decide which subject to choose.

Sample

Out of the students enrolled in the five public schools surrounding the centers, 619 students in grades 6-9 took a baseline test for the experiment. Each student was then randomly placed into either a treatment or control group through a random lottery system for free sessions, splitting them into groups of 314 and 305 students respectively. Unfortunately, out of the 619 students that were selected for the experiment, only 533 completed the full duration of at least 50 days of attendance where an endline test was to be given. This resulted in a smaller sample of 270 control and 263 treatment students.

Results

With the use of the Mindspark Cal system that tracks and monitors each student’s activity and progress, data was easily available to observe and determine the experiments results. In the beginning of the experiment, every student is first given an assessment through the program that showed the actual grade level each student’s learning level before any treatment. The results showed that the, “average student academic achievement is progressing at a lower rate than envisaged by the curriculum” (Muralidharan et al, 10). For example, students in the 9th grade perform on average at 4.5 (e.g. at a 4th grade level) grades below in math and 2.5 grades (e.g. at a 6th grade level) below in Hindi. Clearly the children are just being passed along the educational system without fully grasping the material taught in each grade. Looking at Figure 3, the impact that the program had on students was found to be very beneficial for the treatment group compared to the control. The lottery winners were found to have increased their mean test scores from the baseline and endline tests given to them in math and Hindi. With the results of Table 2 over 4.5 months, the lottery winner’s scores have increased 0.36σ higher in math and 0.22σ higher in their Hindi test scores compared to the control group. Overall, it seemed to show that the use of technology in teaching seemed to have a great impact on the comprehension of math and Hindi by adjusting to the learning level of the student.

Conclusion

After the experiment was complete and the data collected, the researchers concluded some interesting findings on how to properly integrate technology with teaching. First off, they found that the program was effective at teaching students from all levels of education, bringing up both math and language test scores. They also found the program to be cost and time effective for the short time the students were enrolled in the program. Now clearly, here the use of technology in teaching has helped develop the education of this students but not so much when it comes to public school tests. Since many students were found to be a few grades below in their math and Hindi compared to their current grade, the Mindspark program only helped them increased their own individual knowledge of the subjects. If they were to take the school tests their grades would show a great improvement, but might not be enough to pass the test. The paper also concluded that with the use of this blended learning in schools, teachers would be better informed on their students’ performance to be able to plan accordingly. In the end of the experiment the Mindspark program seemed to show great promise for all students and if schools started to take notice of details on students like the program, India’s human capital could skyrocket.

Works Cited

Muralidharan, Karthik, Abhijeet Singh, and Alejandro J. Ganimian. Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India. No. w22923. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016. http://nber.org/papers/w22923

 

Charts & Table

Figure 3: Mean difference in test scores between lottery winners and losers

ECON Figure 2

Figure 1

2 thoughts on “Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India”

  1. I think it is interesting to explore how computer-based learning could help alleviate some of the issues with poor in-person instructional quality in developing countries (or US public schools in poor areas for that matter). Maybe a more top-down curriculum taught in a more standardized fashion (by limiting the involvement of instructors to some extent) is a cost effective solution.

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  2. I think that it is extremely interesting that the research done lead to the conclusion that the software leads to the conclusion that the program was effective at teaching all levels of education. I think the most important part of the education was the customizability of the program. I think the fact that they could tailor the program to the individual student is extremely important. This will be important in not only developing countries, but developed countries that struggle with this problem as well. Furthermore, I wonder how this can be combined with other conclusions such as the one from the Progressa paper by Schultz, to help get students in school and help them do better.

    -Kaushik

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